Canadian doom trio Völur have developed a fascinating, hypnotic sound that sets male-female vocal harmonies over a slow, ritualistic rhythm, bolstered by thick, rumbling bass and mournful violin lines. No guitars are present on their albums; violinist Laura Bates is the lead instrument, with bassist Lucas Gadke (also of occult metal act Blood Ceremony) and new drummer Justin Ruppel laying down the foundation.
The band’s new album Death Cult was partly inspired by a mention of human sacrifice in Roman historian Tacitus‘ book Germania. The Suebi tribes in the Baltic Sea region worshipped the earth goddess Nerthus and would periodically conduct a ritual in her honor that concluded with the drowning of four slaves.
The band’s last full-length, 2017’s Ancestors, incorporated a variety of styles from doomy folk to blasting death metal to modern composition, and in an email interview, Gadke, who does a lot of the writing, mentioned everything from Shostakovich to Kraftwerk to Ustad Amir Khan as touchstones. This time out, the group has expanded their conception even further. The album’s longest track, the 11-minute “Freyjan Death Cult,” travels through multiple sections — sometimes it’s noise-rock, or ultra-distorted doom, while at other points it’s a kind of progressive blues jam with Bates’ violin and Gadke’s bass winding around each other like snakes, but it’s how it begins that’s most surprising. The track opens with a passage of dark, mournful chamber music featuring violin and bass clarinet, the latter instrument journeying from deep drones to anguished squeals. Bates pushes her instrument through a variety of pedals throughout the track (and the album); sometimes it’s clean, offering almost Bartôk-esque Balkan folk melodies, while at other times it’s a grinding, distorted roar that could easily be an electric guitar. The trio uses the recording studio to its full potential, stacking vocal harmonies and additional instrumental lines (including synth on the closing “Reverend Queen”) to create a rich, layered sonic canvas.
Völur‘s music is as heavy as the best and most adventurous doom (think Monarch or Orthodox), but it’s got the richness of classic prog, too; some of these songs are as complex as early ’70s Yes or Van der Graaf Generator, with the dark chamber music feel of Univers Zero. And their interest in Germanic folk ritual doesn’t seem even slightly motivated by racism — in a better world, that would go without saying, but in the metal scene of 2020 it must be made explicit. Any fan of genuinely creative music should be on board with their work already, but Death Cult makes an excellent entry point.