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Album Review: HULDER Verses In Oath

9 Reviewer

Hulder's new album, Verses in Oath, represents a significant progression for the artist, both in terms of songwriting strength and musical cohesion. Upon first hearing it, you're struck by how much energy and atmosphere is packed into its 10 tracks, but also how well-produced it sounds. It probably represents the upper limit for how full and clear a record can sound while still retaining the spirit of raw black metal — or Dark Medieval Black Metal as she calls it.

After a brief intro track, you arrive at "Boughs Ablaze" and can immediately sense Hulder picking up where she left off from her 2022 EP, The Eternal Fanfare. The same stylistic markers from that and her first album are still here, but there's a thunderous quality to the guitar and bass sounds that gives the music a distinctly "low" feeling, almost resembling the sound of bands like Aeternus.

Hulder's vocal delivery has reached a consistently growl, blending with the music perfectly, and sustaining a level of confidence that wasn't fully developed in her demo era. And the writing is just more compelling and effective than on the EP, a sign that more time and care was given to everything here.

Have you ever wanted to waltz to a black metal song (in the pale moonlight)? Well, then you're in luck with the 7+ minute opus that is "Hearken The End." All of Hulder's strengths are on display here, most notably her subtle blending of keyboards into the mix. While other bands tend to make synths the central narrative feature of these songs, Hulder uses it in a delicate way that draws the listener in and encourages a deeper level of attention. 

Likewise, this is true of faster numbers like the title track and "Vessel Of Suffering," songs which show an adept blending of DMDS-era Mayhem, Nemesis Divina-era Satyricon, and Svartalvheim-era Ancient — all coming together to form an enchanting combination. Of course, Hulder adds her own haunting touches to the guitar melodies that mark out a style all her own. This is especially true on the fist-pumping march of "Cast Into The Well Of Remembrance." Having seen Hulder and her live co-conspirators perform in concert, I can confirm that this will be an amazing song to witness on stage.

By the time you reach "Enchanted Steel" and "Veil Of Penitence," the shape and texture of the album's sonic landscape has become clear and recognizable. Listeners who are less excited about this style of metal would probably say it becomes "repetitive" at this point. And maybe that's true, but there's still plenty of worthwhile moments to be had, like the isolated guitar section at 2:20 on "Enchanted Steel" and the sheer power of drummer CK's double-kick pedals on the final track.

For fans of black metal that don't want something quite as raw as the LLN bands or quite as slick as some of the bigger acts, Verses In Oath has everything. It shows a good mix of tempos and moods, and allows multiple instruments to shine in their own way. Like Hulder's amazing debut, Godlastering, it has aggression, atmosphere, mystery and malevolence — all in equal measure. Believe the hype, it will be difficult to top this album for black metal in 2024.

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