Sante Fe’s Vanum is one of the most promising and thoughtful black metal bands on the planet. And with their latest album, Ageless Fire, the band seems poised to let their message of spiritual struggle and transcendence set the entire underground ablaze. And as tracks like “Under the Banner of Death” show, the band is not simply stringing together spiritual slogans and blastbeating the listener’s interest away. No, these guys know how to write emotionally engaging, memorable songs.
On Ageless Fire, the band set out to combine the sounds of the Greek masters like Rotting Christ and Varathron with the force and bluster of peak-era Bathory. There’s certainly a lot of Blood Fire Death to be found here, along with melodic riffing that has echoes of His Majesty at the Swamp and The Triarchy of Lost Lovers. On top of this is laid a more contemporary sheen and professional production quality, but without clicky-sounding drums or just the same flowing beat for every song (thank goodness).
Lyrically, the band claims to draw a lot of inspiration from authors and thinkers like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, both of whom dealt with the universal nature of many stories and the archetypes present in them (and their relevance to our own experience). In a recent interview, drummer Michael Rekevics says that:
The central thrust of my artistic approach to VANUM is a sort of pan-mythic exploration of the heroic impulse in man, an approach that’s deeply resonant with Joseph Campbell‘s writings. Through his body of work in fields such as comparative mythology and comparative religious studies, he sought to highlight and understand what he called the monomyth – an archetypical framework for heroic myth which exists throughout the whole world and across countless cultures and traditions.
A look at the lyrics to “Under the Banner of Death” illustrate many of these themes:
Under the banner of death I am alive.
Amidst the storm of infinite darkness
my spirit still burns.
With the unyielding force of the tyrant
I live free.
A flaming spear cast into the heavens
shatters my chains.
Interesting that they chose a “banner of death” here as the primary symbol of the song. Do they march under death’s banner because death is what gives life it’s finite nature and thus its purpose? Or is this perhaps alluding to Campbell’s idea that “spiritual” death allows for rebirth and then a transformation? Though I have to say, the line “my spirit still burns” immediately recalls Emperor’s “With Strength I Burn” to my mind. After all, that song does bear the lines:
Upon these seas
Wherein I drowned so many times
I scatter the ashes of destiny
Still my flame is in hunger
I know Welkin-era Emperor wasn’t exactly Vanum’s muse here, but it’s cool to see a sort of lyrical resonance with the past that runs alongside the sonic reverence for Sakis and Quorthon. It’s definitely something worth contemplating as you enjoy the song below. Ageless Fire is out today on Profound Lore.