Von - Dark Gods: Seven Billion Slaves
Von Records
Black Metal, Funeral Doom
9 songs (54:09)
Release year: 2013
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

After creating a legend for themselves with a mere demo, American black metal pioneers Von (not standing for ‘victory, orgasm, nazi’!) faded away, and despite a few stirrings since reforming in 2010, there’s been little solid to convince that they have something new to say in the genre. Well, with Dark Gods: Seven Billion Slaves Von definitely is saying something, although those used to the band from the infamous Satanic Blood will be surprised at the stylistic shift from raw, primal blasting. There’s still much blasting to be found, particularly in the second half of the album, but for a large part Seven Billion Slaves buries it deep in favour of a funeral doom template that embraces slow, ominous rumbling. Those used to funeral doom will connect with this quite easily, even with the added black metal elements (let’s face it, this isn’t the first time the two genres have been combined…) yet there’s no doubting that the atmospheric effect is a compelling one. Whether blasting or crawling, Von simply breathes darkness throughout the album, and does it well.

As far as re-imaginings go, this is somewhat less profound than, say, Celtic Frost moving from thrash to gothic avant-garde. Von has kept the same mood of Satanic filth in a way that draws a connecting line between the early likes of Devil Pig and the contents of this album. Beginning with an instrumental introduction in the form of They Have Come, Von immediately sets out its stall; dark, bleak, yet with far better production and musicianship than we are used to. Original band member Venien (bass, vocals) is joined here by Lord Giblete on lead guitar and Charlie Fell (Avichi, Nachtmystium) on drums, forming a solid trio that each has an important part in driving the music forwards. The bass is loud and proud, ringing out clearly on ten-minute behemoth Ancient Flesh of the Dark Gods (which also features two members of Indiana-based sludgers Coffinworm) providing the bottom end beneath the surprisingly tuneful guitar. It’s here that we can hear the vocals for the first time, and they’re masterful; deep, wordless growls like the breathing of some Chthonic beast. Perhaps it’s the obvious touchstone, but the slow, hypnotic riffs have something of Burzum to them, albeit one a lot doomier than what we’re used to from Varg. The sudden shift to blasting black metal keeps the same guitar riffing, linking it up perfectly, and as a whole it’s marvellously gripping, easily eating up the track length and introducing you to Von 2013 perfectly.

Sadly, not all of the album lives up to that quality, although not for the lack of trying. The band sink into the depths of repetition, without managing to hypnotise the listener with it – RawRot an example of this, trying to get just a little too much out of a riff when cutting the track down or moving onwards would have worked better. Yet much of the album is little short of excellent. Hands of Black Death is pleasantly epic, almost like a bleaker Candlemass as the riffs ring out, right until the vocals begin. The riffs repeat, but the effect is brutally compelling, and there’s even some distant and muffling guitar soloing to focus on. Dark Gods is an updated version of the band’s early output, fast and furious but with the new-found focus on the depth and doom-infused effect of it. And where MONSTER! should be silly in a modern-Morbid Angel-kind of way, it overcomes the daftness of its title with sheer rabid fury, blasting without pause from the previous track, the vocals becoming harsher as they are spat out atop the raging rumble. There are even breakdowns where the band retreat to doom territory for a moment before the blasting begins afresh, carrying you along with its dark enthusiasm.

The album ends with three six-minute songs in a row, and it’s clear that the creative well is running a little dry, as there’s more repetition than revelation, two of the tracks repeating a variation of blasting and riffs with little of the effect of earlier tracks. It feels like padding, which doesn’t bode well for future Von releases, especially in the knowledge that this is to be the first album of a trilogy. Hopefully, there’s enough black energy in the creative well for Von to avoid the repetitive, tedious pathway of the Blut Aus Nords of this world in releasing numerous samey albums, especially given the length of time since Satanic Blood... Fortunately, the album ends in Black Eyes, which switches focus from the riffs, relegated to a simple melodic flurry atop the other instruments, and leads to a dark and brutal soundscape of sampled shrieks and yells as the doomy riffs and militaristic drums pound mercilessly. The album ends after the drums have faded, a moment of ambience ominous in its calm, and it’s hard not to appreciate the album as a whole for the sheer effect it has – it’s without doubt a grower, a good, if flawed album. Certainly, there’s enough here to praise this reincarnation of Von and to look forward to future releases, albeit with a careful caveat.

Killing Songs :
Ancient Flesh of the Dark Gods, Hands of Black Death, MONSTER!, Black Eyes
Goat quoted 76 / 100
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