Red and black decorates their faces, purposefully imitating a blood splatter, as the wolves of Bavaria reappear 4 years after releasing their last album, “Das Ende aller Lügen.” VARG has taken a step towards their roots with their sixth (or seventh if you count the re-release of “Wolfszeit”) full-length release as the album is placed in a more Viking era of history, embracing a pagan metal style. “Zeichen” [“Signs”] will be released on September 18th, 2020, through Napalm Records.
“793” is the track opening this album, the year in which it is set. The sounds of nature envelop this otherwise furious song, which lets you know right away what VARG is going for with this release. The band onslaughts you with the heavy drums and fast guitars while vocalist Freki growls about battle. I love that the band does not stray from singing in their native German, which definitely adds to the pagan feeling, and German bands are almost notoriously awkward-sounding when trying to do songs in English.
More Viking conquests are described in “Schildwall,” a track that will indubitably invoke comparisons with AMON AMARTH, not only because the title is a German version of “Shieldwall,” but also the guitar riffs, which sound like the Swedes’ classic melodeath. “Auf die Götter” is the stand-out track of the album, a strong melodeath anthem that will be brilliant to get the crowd going live. There is a lot of melody in the guitars from Morkai, while the drumming by Fenrier provides a great rhythm to go along with Freki’s battle cries. In the latter half, the song turns acoustic for a bit and the chorus is sung by a choir, which adds a feeling, like a village gathering in prayer to the gods.
The album offers a surprise in the form of “Rán,” an intermezzo with battle drums and ethereal female vocals from Fylgja, which continue into the next song from, “Fara Til Rânar.” The song is an ambitious mix of harsh growls and Fylgja’s soft cleans, as well as some whispers, which have a certain Elvish feel. Some old-school vibes can be heard on “Wildes Heer,” as well as a calmer part in the middle with some spoken lyrics that are reminiscent of older VARG albums. Unfortunately, the band has never been amazing at writing lyrics and they keep it rather simplistic on “Zeichen” as well, mostly dealing with paganism, Viking mythology, and nature. As the album is in danger of getting stale in the second half, “Wanderer” does spice it up a bit, with a slightly more blackened sound.
The penultimate track is also the longest one, coming in at almost 8 minutes; “Verräter” features a nice mix of Freki’s usual screamed growls as well as some deeper, more death metal -like gutturals. The song develops nicely and goes into a calmer part in the middle with some whispered vocals before getting back on track with the heaviness. The drums deserve another mention here, as they do a great job of keeping the energy high, while the vocals are less foregrounded in the song.
The title track, “Zeichen,” closes off the album as Freki is joined by a choir in the chorus, once again giving the feeling of a group prayer, enhanced by some ambient nature sounds. It makes perfect sense to finish the album with this piece, as it has a sense of closure, though the blast-beats don’t waver as the song gets fainter and finishes off with only an acoustic guitar.
VARG has worked for 4 years on this album and I’d say the time has been well spent. While the record is not revolutionary, it’s neither boring nor stale and shows the band in a fresh light, going back to their roots in music as well as culture. The production is done well and the addition of clean female vocals adds intrigue and a folky touch to the sound. “Zeichen” is a very solid record and worthy of a spin if you enjoy pagan-themed melodeath.
Written by Didrik M.
3. Auf die Grötter
5. Fara Til Ránar
6. Wildes Heer
7. Feld der Ehre
Freki – lead vocals, guitars
Fenrier – drums
Garm – rhythm guitar
Morkai – lead guitar
Fylgja – female vocals