The fifth outing by German pagan-metallers Varg is not just a step out of the band’s apparent comfort zone. It is a huge gnashing and gurning leap. And guess what? It pays off.
Das Ende aller Lügen or The End of All Lies (Napalm Records) was released on 15 January — nearly four years after the band’s last album Guten Tag. And no sooner does the first track crackle to life, it’s clear that there’s a new agenda on the Bavarian band’s agenda and in Varg’s crosshairs are the world’s political leaders.
The first track titled Der große Diktator (The Great Dictator) is the famous speech from the 1940 film by the same name, set to the haunting strains of a piano. Towards the end of the film, Charlie Chaplin’s Jewish barber — posing as Adenoid Hynkel, — delivers the speech that includes the lines:
'Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes — men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men — machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!'
These words set the tone for the monstrous Philipp "Freki" Seiler to kickstart the album’s title track.
Immediately, the inherently political theme — a significant change of tack from 2012’s Guten Tag and the disappointing 2015 EP Rotkäppchen — of the album becomes clear. Titles like Das Ende aller Lügen, Revolution and Achtung leave to interpretation about which way the album’s subject matter is going to go — if it wasn’t already telegraphed by the spoken word opening track.
But that’s just the lyrics.
The musical content has actually undergone a far larger change.
After a cursory listen to the chug-along title track to the anthemic Revolution and the sing-along Streyfzug, one thing becomes immediately apparent: Varg’s sonic palette has expanded. For starters, the album has a distinctly melodic feel to it. The guitar parts are more complex and dare-I-say sophisticated, so too are the drum fills. The interplay between clean vocals and growling is nuanced. And that's not all. The album boasts a lot more production than any Varg record so far — without ever giving the impression of being over-produced. And that is a rare commodity indeed.
Which brings us neatly to track five: Achtung. This is an early contender for metal song of the year. Complete with gang chants, a symphonic flourish and plenty of aggression, this stompathon — that arguably fits better into the Neue Deutsche Härte genre than death metal per se — is guaranteed to be a live favourite.
Normal service resumes soon after with Dunkelheit (Darkness) sounding a lot closer to the Varg of old, albeit with the new textures referred to earlier. Totentanz (Dance of Death) is another highlight of the album featuring a cameo from Anna Murphy from Swiss folk metal act Eluveitie.
Rounding off the 36-minute album are the blinding blitzkrieg that is Wintersturm (Winterstorm) and the ballad — yes, a ballad — Ascheregen.
Ten tracks that weigh in at a total of 36 minutes, it can be argued, is a bit light. But when you consider the fact that not a single song can be even remotely considered filler material, it's an impressive achievement.
The album — in case you hadn't already guessed — is, much like the rest of Varg's back catalogue, almost entirely in German. However, should you find a way to get your hands on the two-disc digipak, you'll find the same songs on the second disc — but in English. The impact is nowhere near the same as that of the songs in the language they were originally written, but there is an upside.
Apart from a way to make sense of the lyrics — for non-Teutophones, the English disc is a wonderful way to make the music of Varg more accessible to a friend, and cut through the language barrier.
After the sad end to 2015 for metalheads the world over, Das Ende aller Lügen is a fantastic way to kick off 2016!
Here's a tiny sample: