VARG is a band that I saw as one of the next most popular bands of the melodic death/black metal scene 10 years ago, and I can strongly remember when missing any of their shows wasn’t an option whenever they visited my home country. However over the years their music became uninspired and stale for me, and somehow I couldn’t find the excitement for them that I used to feel when the “Blutaar” album (NoiseArt Records, 2010) was released. So naturally, VARG was cast into the void and completely forgotten for most of the last decade for me. During the time in between, they’ve released three new albums and re-recorded their fantastic debut as “Wolfszeit II” last year. Now they’re back with another brand new studio album, “Zeichen,” released on 18 September 2020 via Napalm Records.
Since the last time I was in the loop, VARG has signed with Napalm Records and with this new record, they have started to reinvent themselves and, at the same time – much to my surprise – they’ve also added a female vocalist, Fylgja, to their lineup. VARG and female vocals? I couldn’t even imagine what it might sound like, so obviously this was the perfect time to give these guys another chance. Since this album and new line-up is a fresh start for them, I’ve also decided to start again with a clean slate as well – just as if they were a new band and this was the first record I’d ever heard from them.
“Zeichen” turned out to be a very solid, melodic, and enjoyable record with many different aspects to enjoy. Unfortunately we don’t hear much of Fylgja’s beautiful vocals, but her presence surely brings a great new element to the band’s sound and I’m sure her role is only going to grow to become a dominant part of the next step in the band’s evolution. Ultimately, “Zeichen” is a true return to form for VARG, embracing a more pagan/viking metal sound that reminds me of why they were able to spark my attention in the first place.
Starting with the opening track, “793,” I had to check my audio player again to see if it was not AMON AMART that was playing. Freki’s vocals didn’t remind me of Johan Hegg’s deep grunts of course, but the guitar melodies and the song’s structure are very close features to the viking-themed melodic death metal masters’ finest works. “Schildwall” continues with these similarities, bringing another genuine presentation of the genre’s arsenal to the table. Yet I don’t count this as a kind of negative point – it is an enjoyable song nonetheless and I’m sure I’m going to give it a spin again and again in the years to come.
“Auf die Götter” takes a turn to the more party-friendly direction and is one of the album’s highlights with its simple guitar melody and catchy chorus. It is a classic folk/viking metal song that I can easily see turning out to be a future live favorite. Honestly, I don’t know what the lyrics are about, but it is surely a fun one to eventually sing along with and raise a plastic cup of beer high when times change and it will be possible to attend live concerts again.
Following the short interlude of Fylgja’s vocal harmonies accompanied by drums in “Rán,” comes the true surprise of the album. It is at least an entirely different piece than anything I would have expected to hear from VARG. New singer Fylgja takes the lead this time, towering on top of the song like a Valkyrie over the battlefield – a perfect example of one of the best ways to use clean female vocals in melodic black/viking metal and it utterly left me wanting more.
The second part of the album with “Wildes Heer,” “Feld der Ehre,” “Wanderer,” and “Verräter” returns to the classic formula, catchy guitar melodies, screams, and growls return – sometimes very much like “Auf die Grötter” – and sometimes with the less melodic, more straightforward approach of the first two songs. All of them have the possibility to be a regular concert song and I’m curious to see which one of them we’ll eventually hear. The album concludes with the title song, which is another brilliant highlight for me – a mid-tempo song with an outstanding vocal performance and a searingly epic chorus.
So the ultimate question is still if this album will be able to lure me back into the fanbase of VARG. It’s a promising start, so I’d say it’s definitely a yes, but only time will tell. What I can confidently say is that this a perfect indication of where this band is now and I can warmly recommend this to anyone who either hears about this band now for the first time, or a returning listener and fan of their earlier material. Good job, wolves!
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