Though the island nation has thrown out its fair share of accomplished acts over the years, British black metal often gets short shrift when held up against the output of the genre’s Scandinavian homeland. Blutvial, from Hampshire, are among a number of promising UK black metal acts attempting to correct this imbalance. Borrowing heavily – very heavily – from their Norse forbearers, the band’s second album, ‘Curses Thorns Blood’, is a violent barrage of hellish sound that holds nearly every second-wave Norwegian band of any account as a musical touchstone
Blutvial have endeavoured to pay tribute to almost every facet of the burgeoning 90s black metal scene and the record’s venomous opening salvo heavily references Mayhem, Marduk and Gorgoroth at the height of their savagery. Early tracks like “At The Stones We Gather” and “The Immutable Hammer” are utterly relentless, with the slow-burning opening seconds of “Conspiracy of Darkness” offering the only respite from the storm of fury.
These songs are lent a new potency by vast improvements in production over debut release, ‘I Speak of the Devil’. The sounds and ideas of the 90s are all present and correct but the “recorded on an answering machine in a timber cabin half-way up a windy Norwegian mountainside” aesthetic thankfully is not.
Truth is though, for all their rage, Blutvial’s more atmospheric and sedately-paced material is more engaging than the breakneck, hateful riffing that dominates the first half of ‘Curses Thorns Blood’. Problem is, there’s not enough of it. It’s only really in the final two tracks, “A Light In the Forest” and “Wethered and Broken-Mouthed”, that this style is explored in any depth but it’s abundantly clear that there’s a rich seam of ideas to be mined.
The latter half of “A Light In The Forest” slows the pace right down; with the introduction of grandiose, sweeping riffs and even clean guitars to end, it’s more than a little reminiscent of Emperor and Enslaved, circa-‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ and ‘Frost’. The closing song, meanwhile, owes a lot to Moonsorrow and even Wodensthrone and Agalloch, minus the folk elements, with its deeply doomy, sombre mood. All of this is relatively new ground for Blutvial. While their debut record contained a few funereal numbers in the style of ‘Panzerfaust’-era Darkthrone, the songwriting was much less impressive than here.
It’s hard to fault Blutvial for their ambition, for what they have essentially created with ‘Curses Thorns Blood’ is a comprehensive homage to 1990s black metal in its totality. But though there’s lots of variety and plenty to enjoy in the album’s 50-minute running time, the final result ends up coming across as scattershot and fragmented. Some will no doubt relish the record’s all-encompassing nature, though I suspect others may bemoan Blutvial’s “jack of all trades, master of none” approach and look elsewhere for more substantial and specialised fare.