Though not common place, a small array of metal artists have demonstrated that a guitar-less existence is possible. In the case of Canadian trio Völur, though, it can even lead to spectacular innovation. Sure, mythological themes and heavy metal have gone hand-in-hand for decades, and bringing in an air of ambient mysticism is nothing new either, but Völur’s flawless blend of ethereal otherworldliness and raw hulking metal prowess is something special.
In place of guitars, we are given Laura C. Bates’ masterful violin to perform the role normally played by a lead guitar. What is surprising is how naturally this – perhaps the most ambitious aspect of their music – fits seamlessly, and provides a layer of spiritualistic emotion that occasionally borders on classical terrain, whilst Lucas Gadke’s bass leads the band’s metallic side. Jimmy Payment’s drums are the conjoining factor; they maintain balance in subtler sections and add to the power in heavier sections. His input remains understated but key to the band’s sound.
Where debut album Disir focused on female figures from Germanic folklore, Ancestors focuses on their male counterparts. These concepts remain dominant throughout, and seem to come from a deep-rooted passion rather than a misguided wish to exude some exotic and magical aesthetic. The Teutonic fables discussed are presented through the dual vocal impact of Bates’ soaring, occasionally piercing, singing and Gadke’s raspier growls – gloriously effective.
Despite this ever-present and coherent theme, the band are open to experimenting with their sound which, given the lengthy tracks, proves useful in preventing any notions of sluggishness. At times, they execute all-out metallic fury – most notably on the blast-beats and black metal shrieks of ‘Breaker Of Famine’ – but Völur demonstrate a different approach to many of their contemporaries that focus on nonstop power. Their brand of intensity relies on an innate ability to build tension, utilising moments of respite and quiet subtlety that accentuate the supernatural quality of the music but also aid in making the heavier moments more impactful.
On ‘Breaker Of Skulls’, an aggressive sludgy riff lives up to the track’s name, but soon gives way to a more sombre conclusion that balances musical elegance with an emotionally weighty sense of longing. Elsewhere, the desperately mournful violin of ‘Breaker Of Souls’ would not be out of place on an episode of Game of Thrones, or in a cutscene from video game series The Witcher, but it soon builds into a magnificent blend of solemn violin, mystic chanting and rumbling bass.
It’s hard to sum up a release that is just as proficient in creating a rustic sense of expressive grandiosity as it is at terrifically imposing doom metal. Ancestors is a release brimming with sacred powers, heathen myths and long-forgotten tales all equally well-suited to the emotive folk and the striking metallic wrath that comprises the release. Völur’s set-up sounds like a foolish experiment or cheap gimmick on paper, but give them the time of day and you’ll uncover a band who wear their mystical element authentically, and who create a unique and enchanting style of folk-infused doom.