Hulder – Verses in Oath (20 Buck Spin)

Wednesday, 7th February 2024
Rating: 9 / 10

Re-energizing that early 90s sound of the infamous Norwegian black metal scene, Hulder took the landscape by storm via a duo of heralded demos in 2018, quickly followed by an EP Embraced by Darkness Mysts… and a debut full-length in Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry. The latter solidified Hulder’s place in the black metal lexicon, reminding of early Darkthrone and Emperor, but without being a carbon copy. That’s what has endeared yours truly to Hulder most – a rare ability to take a classic, often mimicked sound, and create their own viewpoint within that somewhat narrow purview. This continued with another EP, The Eternal Fanfare, in 2022, which brings us to album number two, Verses in Oath.

When listening to Hulder, it’s easy to pick them out, which is high praise in my sometimes feeble brain. That thought applies with Verses in Oath, right from the majestic opening assault that is “Boughs Ablaze.” A slight usage of synths deep in the mix provides an exalted aura, along with a grandiose progression throughout the song that dials up a level of icy tension. “Hearken the End” is slightly reminiscent of early days Dimmu Borgir – thinking of For all tid specifically – in the understated symphonic undertones, accentuated by frigid shrieks. When the harsher vocals are layered with a dose of cleaner choral passages in this song, my does it click ever so nicely. Stinging guitars erupt in the listeners face consistently to ensure that a steely edge is ever present, balanced out by timely acoustic notes. Possibly the most variable song of Hulder’s career, and subsequently, one of her best.

The tide continues to flow viscerally with the title track being particularly cutting and bombastic, achieving a menacingly aggressive pace. At this point in the record, two instrumentals provide an interlude of which give a relaxed and chilling inflection. It works for these ears, providing a bridge between the first and second halves of Verses in Oath, though we can imagine some not wanting this kind of break in the meat of the album. Fear not, as “Cast Into the Well of Remembrance” is overflowing with medieval stylings and a metric ton of crunch, even harkening somewhat towards death metal via a few heavy downpicked guitar rhythms. Tremolos are about, however, so the train remains firmly on the black metal rails.

“Vessel of Suffering” will please those wanting a glacially heavy, super direct black metal scorcher, while closer “Veil of Penitence” emits a similar energy along with more pronounced symphonic bits to bring proceedings to a satisfying close. An important consideration on Verses in Oath are the production values – mixing/mastering via Ahti Kortelainen of Tico Tico Studios – which provide the pinpoint amount of clarity in what has been historically a lo-fi endeavor. Personally, black metal that sounds too thin is an easy pass, and thankfully Hulder doesn’t fall into that trap. Every sound is robust, while not losing that frosted over tonality that’s vital to black metal of this ilk.

Hulder has crafted what is to date her most complete work, further expanding the project’s sound without losing or marginalizing any critical fundamentals. Folk elements are on display without overindulging, the guitars are memorable buzzsaws of fury, and the rhythms pound away to give the right amount of low end. As bands like Emperor progressed throughout their recording history to showcase ever improving songwriting capability, so has Hulder, with Verses in Oath being an outstanding example of taking the next snow-covered step in an already impressive existence.

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