Hulder returns with a sophomore album of raw, traditional black metal that places them in the company of giants on Verses In Oath.

Release date: February 9, 2024 | 20 Buck Spin | Facebook | Instagram | Website

Iowa, where I live, experienced record snowfall this January. Temperatures and wind chills were, at best violent. Schools cancelled and businesses closed for a few days as we all retreated into winter’s wrath and darkness. As the full moon approaches and January’s frigid embers fade, there is no better time to dive into some black metal. One-woman black metal project Hulder adorns this winter escapade with her new album Verses in Oath.

2019’s De Oproeping Van Middeleeuwse Duisternis collected a demo and early release and caught me by the neck with its raw, medieval black metal. At the time, nothing had sounded so much like the early black metal records I loved by Darkthrone and Mayhem. I was immediately hooked. This was followed by 2021’s Godlastering: Hymns Of a Forlorn Peasantry, her first official full-length and still one of my favorite album titles of all time, that saw Hulder take on deeper medieval influences and cleaner production. 2022 gave us The Eternal Fanfare EP, which saw tighter songwriting and left fans craving more.

Hulder’s sophomore LP starts off with crow caws and a building sound of wind, harbingers of the melancholy doom to come titled simply “An Elegy”. “Boughs Ablaze” torches any sense of the serene with an immediate bombast of blast beats and sorrowful guitars, Hulder’s guttural rasp sounds as feral as ever. Dungeon synth passages emphasize the doleful riffs until we are ushered out with soft acoustics and a choral outro. This sets the tone for the ebb and flow of Verses in Oath.

“Hearken The End” is a midtempo, medieval sounding banger. Clean singing and memorable riffage cast themselves among more atmospheric synths until harsher vocals return. The production on this track feels rawer and perfectly suits the mood. This isn’t quite underground demo tape music, though. There is too much skill and finesse, drawing the listener into the murk with an icy intent. “Verses In Oath” is a classic black metal assault, dark music to worship arcane deities to. Hulder’s voice offers full throated imprecations of doom, sinister and guttural, giving her the edge to stand out amidst the maelstrom of black metal classicists.

This is followed by “Lamentation”, an interlude of distorted and haunting operatic vocals morphing into “An Offering” whose clean vocals and building synths are driven by drums that are reminiscent of a film score before an epic battle begins. These tracks add texture and nuance to the assault, a checkpoint for weary travelers to rest for just a moment before the second half kicks off with even more fury and fanfare.

“Into The Well of Remembrance” sounds triumphant. Hulder has never sounded more in touch with their craft, paying homage to greats like Emperor while forging their own path into the abyss. “Vessel of Suffering” does this just as well, hearkening back to the title track in its ferocity. “Enchanted Steel” slows things down a bit and could go on a bit longer with its hooky outro.

The only complaint I have about this album is that there isn’t enough of it. The execution is so satisfying that 40 minutes feels too short. It is like getting a great dinner but the last bites haven’t left you stuffed and comatose. The intro and interludes, while very enjoyable, total around five and a half minutes leaving the main course a little short for my hunger.

Closing things out is “Veil of Penitence” that offers up yet another catchy riff before a roar of voices and battlements is sampled in and the groove continues. This track would be stunning to see live, with its tom-smashing breakdown and war ready riffs, it begs for a headliner light show. Hulder already blows audiences out of the water with her live shows and backing band. The new songs will surely kick it up to festival stage territory.

Overall, Verses In Oath is more of the sound fans have come to expect from Hulder with a bit more experimentation and a ton more confidence. There is so much to love about this straightforward black metal that repeat listens are mandatory. Hulder continues her ascent into black metal stardom with aplomb, and though the year is still young, it will take an act of Satan to keep this album off year end lists.

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