Vemod’s sophomore effort has been one of my most anticipated releases for the past three years. Following 2012’s Venter på stormene, the Norwegian band continued to gain notoriety thanks not only to the stunning atmosphere and textures of that album but also thanks to their mesmerizing live performances. I managed to see them twice between 2015 and 2016 in Montreal and Minneapolis, and the increased clarity of their material in a live setting gave it an even greater impact than on record. Around the end of 2020 Vemod began teasing The Deepening, originally setting it for a 2021 release. But news would trickle out slowly, and the group’s desire to tweak the mix and master to their preferred levels ultimately delayed it until January 2024. But one time through is all it took for me to know the wait was worth it, as Vemod has retained some of the harsher wall of sound elements but also expanded their melodies and ethereal side in a way that moves further from their black metal foundation. It’s a stunning effort that hooks on first listen but reveals more details with each time through and is the closest the group has some to the sweeping power of their live shows on record.
Venter på stormene was split pretty evenly between atmospheric black metal and ambient, with the second half moving towards textures that made you want to look towards the stars. The Deepening retains some of that approach, but the ambient sections are now woven seamlessly into the rest of the material and give off imagery of the raging force and beauty of nature. This fits with the cover art perfectly, and while the atmosphere is a bit more grounded than before than cosmic in nature it’s still just as sweeping and powerful. The short ambient opener gives way to “Der guder dør”, which greets you with crashing drums and airier guitar melodies before the blast beats and layers of harsher instrumentation come roaring in. If one thing is clear from this first taste, it’s that Vemod hasn’t fully abandoned black metal and is still able to bludgeon with sheer force when necessary. But this is only one side of the sound, as the harsher edges soon give way to beautiful melodies that seem to hover over top of this roaring foundation, giving off a warm and mysterious tone. The melodies continue to provide plenty of twists and turns, but around the nine-minute mark the band slows things down and becomes a bit more fluid rhythmically. This passage feels more post rock in terms of tonality and approach, but the rhythms have an almost jazzy touch to them. From this point onwards Vemod only gets stronger, as “True North Beckons” may be one of the best songs they’ve ever written. This one starts off like its predecessor with a driving cadence and shimmering melodies, but once the blasting comes in the melodies reach such an incredible high that they transport you to the tallest mountain peak. The way the drums suddenly drop out, only to return with tremendous force has a great impact, and it really showcases how effective this band is from a songwriting perspective. “Inn i lysende natt” opts for an instrumental only affair where metal is almost completely absent in favor of warmer textures and more of a progressive rock type build-up, while the sixteen-minute title track weaves all these elements together. Not a minute of the forty-eight-minute run feels wasted and even the longer pieces seem to fly by quickly with how they manage to entrance you. The production also has a lot more clarity compared to Vemod’s previous effort, but there are still plenty of layers that reveal additional details to the instrumentation over repeat listens.
One area that the group has kept deliberately murky is the vocal work, as E. Blix’s screams remain in the background and seem to appear through the gaps in the instrumentation. While I’m not always a fan of the decision to bury the screams and growls on other black metal records, it works on The Deepening as Blix seems to rise up through the layers like lava erupting from a volcano as his voice becomes more audible with each minute. This stands in contrast to the singing on the material, particularly on the title track, which is just as loud as the instrumentation and has a bit more of that ethereal tone to it. Stylistically the singing gives off more of a folk or progressive rock tone, and while it’s on the airier side there’s still a sense of power to the performance that makes it stand out just as much as the harsher pitches. Like Venter på stormene, the singing and screaming comes across like an extension of the instrumentation rather than a true focal point, but it does help to set certain passages over the top and make them more memorable.
It's clear that Vemod really took their time when it came to the layered details and production of each song on The Deepening, and while the wait may have been long it has definitely been worth it. While it may not completely reinvent the approach from Venter på stormene, the band has pushed outwards and expanded their melodies and atmosphere in ways that continue to set them apart from others out there. Traces of black metal remain, but there’s so much more to this one and it’s the type of album that listeners can get lost in for hours. It may only be January but expect this one to still be near the top of Best Of Lists when December rolls around. The Deepening is available from Prophecy Productions.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg