It is hard to believe the world is about to receive the ninth studio album from the Black-n-Roll masters of Søgndal, Norway, the one and only Vreid. On Friday, April 30, 2021, Wild North West rolls down from the fjord lands via Season of Mist records, bringing a cinematic and conceptual work of art from the band that once was known as Windir. Morphing from the synth and riff-heavy pagan Black Metal of their former selves, Vreid have built a magnificent career following the tragic death of young Terje ‘Valfar’ Bakken (1978-2004), doing the memory and legacy of their vocalist the utmost justice in the process.
On Wild North West, Jarle Hváll Kvåle (bass guitar), weaves a tale of life and death in the mountainous landscape of Norway and centers it around a fictional character known as E. A reflection of their own lives, Vreid once again displays a penchant for superb songwriting centered around that most elusive yet basic ingredients in all worthy Heavy Metal music – the riff. Opening with the title track, the listener is greeted with an old-school, semi-distorted keyboard phrase reminiscent of a 1970s Horror movie. The song itself, when it kicks in, is pure Metal; mid-paced with the ferocious rasp of Vocalist/Guitarist Sture Dinsøyr. “There is the real world, and then there’s mine,” he growls, bringing fans right down into his creation. The Black Metal atmosphere is in place, synths and fast picking melding with the enunciated vocal, but this music beats with a traditional Metal heart. Clean-sung vocals over Sture’s growl make up the ending refrain, built upon gorgeous tremolo-picking over a solid blast beat courtesy of percussion mainstay Steingrim (Jørn Holen).
Arguably the most special moment on the album occurs within the song “Into the Mountains.” Fans of Borknagar and Abbath/Immortal will relish the reverence for the Nordic homeland on full display here. But those who have followed Vreid since the days of Windir will rejoice – perhaps even get a little misty-eyed – that keyboard lines penned and recorded by Hváll and Valfar himself in 2002 are herein utilized. This is a heartfelt gesture, and a fitting one. The hard-touring Vreid probably hasn’t spent this much time in and around their homes since those heady years of youth, and this excellent anthem will evoke that spirit with every listen. Vreid knows when to strip down their tunes to expose the rhythmic, Folk-inspired skeleton underneath, and fans can have no doubt that they feel their old friend’s spirit in the hills and hollows of their home. The majesty of Windir lives on in Vreid’s music today. It always has, but on this song, it strikes just a little bit nearer.
Shades of Van Halen color the Rock-n-Roll rhythms of “Dazed and Reduced,” sung cleanly for the most part. An unusual touch by a band who generally goes way harder than this, but damned if it doesn’t hit perfectly. Hváll’s gorgeous bass playing comes through with some adroit passages, and all told this song works wonderfully. Juxtaposed against the grim “Spikes of God” which precedes it, the mood change hits like wind from the fjords, ushering in a storm. Steingrim is a machine on the drums, Sture and Stian Bakketig on the axes so fast it’s a wonder they didn’t burn down the studio. If Kill Em All era Metallica could have been strained through a prism of pagan Black Metal, it would come out sounding like “Shadows of Aurora,” with fantastic unforgettable guitar leads heaped in for good measure. Closing with the 9:53 “Shadowlands,” atmosphere, lovely synths, and a blackened heart keep the listener enraptured throughout.
Enriching, creative, and full of magnificent songwriting, Wild North West breathes life into this time of dread and uncertainty in which we live. Vreid has the ‘it’ quality most bands only dream about, and here it is honed to perfection. In conclusion, this album may be Vreid’s pinnacle to date, a glorious collision of speed, Classic Rock, and a heart that beats black as a Nordic winter night. Enjoy it. This is why Cryptic Rock gives Wild North West 5 out of 5 stars.