REVIEWED: Valdrin - 'Effigy of Nightmares'
Call it foolish, utterly deluded sentimentalism, but every once in a while, it seems we’re sometimes destined to make certain significant, occasionally even momentous, musical discoveries. The sort of joyous, seldom stumbled-upon sonic revelations that leave us instantly agog with all the wide-eyed wonder of an amateur field archaeologist unearthing some priceless, millennia-old relic. And be it in the musty, long-forgotten recesses of your favourite record store or at 11.30am in a mud-caked festival field whilst quietly nursing an acidic hangover, odds are, you’ll know the feeling when it hits you.
So when this humble scribe had the rare good fortune to randomly tune into YouTube one dreary Friday night precisely five minutes before the online premiere of the enticingly titled ‘Effigy of Nightmares’, it’s hard to deny the uncanny cosmic magnetism attached to this vicious, compositionally intricate gem of a six-tracker. Indeed, even before we begin the morbidly absorbing process of dissecting the deliciously macabre treasures contained within, a cursory glance at the exquisitely detailed brushstrokes adorning its cover gives no small indication of the ghoulish, brimstone-scorched carnage that awaits. With its vivid depictions of infernal torture etched in intricate accents of livid scarlet and richly congealing crimson, these nightmarish images abound with a monstrous grandeur reminiscent of horror legend Clive Barker’s infamous, diabolical imaginings. And, much like the notorious infernal puzzle box first popularised by 1987 cult classic Hellraiser, ‘Effigy of Nightmares’ is a work of equal, meticulously engineered intricacy and ingenuity of design. Appropriately fitting to our present analogy, too, it also coincidentally clocks in at a tidily concise 30 minute runtime. Make no mistake though, from the moment you set about delving deep into the countless, murkily labyrinthine twists and exhilarating stylistic turns that define this artfully devised album, you’ll find yourself instantly and irrevocably ensnared.
With its richly imaginative central narrative having been artfully spun around a nightmarish, subterranean hospital buried in the deepest bowels of the abyss, there’s no mistaking the meticulously crafted vision at the heart of this compositionally masterful long-player. From ghoulishly rippling piano notes to sultry layerings of ink-black synths that whirl and evaporate into the ether like the finest of evanescent vapours, the presence of these darkly beguiling energies is made richly apparent from the outset of tension-laden opener ‘Gates of Hospice’. But it’s not until this intensely suspenseful prelude erupts into the madly accelerating throes of ‘Exsanguination Tunnels’ that the Ohio collective seize utter and absolute control of the senses, expertly battering and obliterating them to bloodily unrecognisable smithereens, such is the sheer magnitude of their violently compelling powers. Yet, for all the unrelenting aggression being exhibited here in spades, this is a work equally born of meticulously observed precision and darkly absorbing atmosphere, with demented banshee shrieks and hammer blasts finding impeccable placement in amongst generous lashings of elegant, Cradle-esque symphonic flourishes and intensely cinematic atmospherics.
Plunging us ever deeper into the ceaselessly twisting, entrail-like recesses of this endlessly intriguing body of work, it’s easy to appreciate why ‘Red Burning Candles of Hatred’ was selected by way of a single release ahead of the record’s official unveiling. From gnarly, densely impenetrable layerings of coldly abrasive tremolo through to exquisitely delicate lines of gossamer-fine fretwork that writhe and unravel with tortured, blackly beguiling beauty, Valdrin here strike a truly impeccable balance of brimstone-scorched aggression and stunningly constructed intricacy. Be it in ‘Serpentine Bloodhalls’s’ intensely cinematic array of gorgeously lilting acoustics and duskily ambient echoes or in the ghoulish expanse of ink-black atmospherics that richly inhabit epic closer ‘Down the Oubliette of Maelstrom’, each and every track is possessed of its own host of myriad fascinations and arcane intrigues just waiting to be unearthed and unleashed upon an unsuspecting cosmos. Yet, for all the fierce individualism that defines each of these uniquely crafted compositions, there’s an equally palpable sense of seamless, tautly assembled cohesiveness at work here, of a highly calculating and coherent sense of purpose. Something that utterly surpasses the sum of its flesh and blood creators, of individual, distinctly separate sonic parts and traditions, of light and dark, of the damned and divine. This, dear listener, is the unmistakable mark of a musical vision brought to ghoulishly vivid and masterful fruition.
'Effigy of Nightmares' is out now on Blood Harvest