Ereb Altor – Vargtimman

Formed in 2003, Ereb Altor was established as a supplement to Tabletop RPG Drakar och Demoner, a Swedish sibling of the more well-known Dungeons and Dragons. Given this origin, they are surprisingly well realised musically, avoiding anything gimmicky, and not restricting their subject matter (which also covers nature, Norse mythology, and personal struggles). Their earlier, Bathory-esque sound has evolved into something distinctly their own, really hitting their stride around the mid-2010s.

“Vargtimman” marks the full maturation of Ereb Altor’s sound. While previous albums have all been solid melodic/viking black metal offerings, “Vargtimman” feels like a complete experience. Each track stands out on its own, with individual moods or compositional elements, but they’re arranged in a way that flows very well, meaning this album is both more varied and more cohesive.

Opening track “I Have the Sky” breaks from the longer, slower intros of previous albums, keeping to a brief, though beautiful, harmonised vocal lead-in. We are then dropped straight into the action, giving this album a sense of urgency and energy. This song ties in echoes of the hymn-like intro and intense clean vocals which, mixed with the pacing, truly give the impression of setting off on an epic journey.

Title track “Vargtimman” is full of interesting sonic textures. Harsh and clean vocals both alternate with whispered, almost incantation-like sections. It’s a very solid track, classic of Ereb Altor’s style, but this addition takes it to the next level with a sense of something slightly occult.

“Fenris” leads us in with a calm, atmospheric opening and one of the prettiest clean guitar tones I’ve heard in a while. It’s a brief detail, but attention to detail is quickly becoming one of the standout attributes of this album. This track is also where the vocal work goes from good to outstanding. Mats’ clean vocal style has always been a great blend, achieving emotional intensity without sacrificing tone or falling off key, but here his talent has really matured. There is more emotional nuance and variety of timbres, as well as more range and control than showcased on much of their earlier work.

After the melodic “Fenris,” “Rise of the Destroyer” is back at it with the energetic pacing of the album. This track leans harder into their black metal influences, being heavier and with more harsh vocals. Here there are some prime moments for headbanging, and some background, almost chanted, vocals that I suspect would be great fun to join in with live.

“Alvablot” feels like a throwback to older albums, which is by no means an insult, though it does showcase how much more interesting the rest of this album is by comparison. That said, it’s still very pretty, and placed well in the album. It’s the longest song, and also the calmest, providing some breathing room. While vocals still take centre stage, this is one of the few tracks where the guitar is also allowed a moment in the sun.

After the last sigh of “Alvablot,” “Den Dighra Döden” leads in slowly with sinister spoken word, and the cawing of ravens. This could easily have veered into very dorky territory, but they stop just shy of that and plunge us into a very satisfying harsh scream instead. Atmospheric keyboards through the track lend an uncanny undercurrent that balances out the faster pace very interestingly.

I haven’t mentioned the drum work on this album yet, because while it is all very good, “Ner i Mörkret”’s drum-focused intro is absolutely delightful, and is one of the highlights of the album overall. The track itself builds beautifully off this base, alternating thundering sections and more contemplative parts which eventually wind together.

“Heimdals Horn” is the sort of album ending that needs to be earned, and this one has been. I have mentioned how things build up several times, and they are all building up to this. Various elements of this song echo previous tracks, making it feel spacious, with a sense of scale, like the conclusion to a fantasy epic.

Overall, I feel comfortable saying “Vargtimman” is Ereb Altor’s best work, and my personal favourite without a doubt. I got everything I wanted out of this album, and then some.
Each track stands out on its own while serving the album as a whole; each idea is given time to develop, but none are allowed to overstay their welcome.
They have not tried anything out of character, so established fans will not be alienated, but every track has something slightly improved, or an evolution that elevates it just that much further. If you have not listened to Ereb Altor before, or have not checked them out in a while, this is a perfect time to do so.

Rating: 9/10
Release date: January 14th, 2022
Label: Hammerheart Records

Written by Astrid

Tracklist:
1. I Have the Sky
2. Vargtimman
3. Fenris
4. Rise of the Destroyer
5. Alvablot
6. Den Dighra Döden
7. Ner i Mörkret
8. Heimdals Horn