Vardan – No Exit From the Forest Review
Do you smell that? It’s the sweet smell of utter devastation that can only come from the ass of the mighty Vardan. Since the band’s start, Vardan has been spewing hate into a toilet of phlegmy depression. The band’s approach is slow and atmospheric, with impossibly decipherable vocals screaming somewhere afar (probably eclipsed by four-foot-wide spruce). But, things have changed for Vardan. Coinciding with the lovely pandemic that has engulfed the world, the band (and the man) seems to be slowing down. Not in the sense of calling it quits but rather focusing on a single release instead of five-plus records in a single year. But, there’s more to this than meets the ear. Last year, Vardan released Growls From Etna1—a record that continued up the same steep, frozen ground but, somehow, ventured from it at the same time. Growls From Etna introduced a different side to Vardan, and No Exit From the Forest continues the trudge into the thorny brush.
While Growls From Etna maintains everything you expect to hear from Vardan, the formula appears changed. Far more atmospheric than typical, this thirty-six-minute record contains a mere four tracks. Not only that, but song titles are as one would expect from a normal band. You might be asking, what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here? I have no answers. But, I can tell you one thing: the song titles on No Exit From the Forest are on par with previous releases. But, the delivery is like nothing I’ve ever heard from Vardan.
Think October Falls’ magnificent acoustic compilation, Kaarna. Add distortion and Vardan’s signature vocals, and you’re getting close to the delivery of No Exit From the Forest—specifically when it comes to Pt. 4. This new record is difficult to dissect. It might be five distinct tracks, but it flows like one thirty-seven-minute song. It’s atmospheric as a motherfucker, taking many of those same characteristics from Growls From Etna. But, here, it takes them further than ever before. You can’t listen to No Exit From the Forest Pt. 2 without experiencing Pt. 1. And, furthermore, you’re left hanging at the end of Pt. 2 if you don’t continue onto Pt. 3. It’s a trve album—in the sense that you can’t listen to it without experiencing it all.
But, where everything works best is on Pt. 2 and Pt. 4. Pt. 2 is easily the most hopeless of the bunch. And while you shouldn’t listen to it without the others, it’ll make you feel balled up in a dark hole. Pt. 4 is a beautifully depressing piece that works hard to build up the edge before transitioning to the gentle piano strokes of Pt. 5. This closing number is also a highlight that concludes the album out in a wonderful, sad boi way.
With the key-driven character of the record, Vardan’s signature growls and screams stand out like a sore thumb. They’re in the back of the mix, but, at times, they feel out of place on the record. This is especially true with the opener. Thankfully, there are some cleaner backing vocals to offset them. Not fully, but it does help.
Surprisingly, there’s a good amount of variation for a record of this style—even if it does take a few spins to find it. But, for you all that jump to the bottom of a review without reading it, you’ll find the most surprising part yet. No Exit From the Forest has perhaps the best dynamics of the year. While there’s not much in the way of riffs on the album, you can hear every guitar and bass note, every enveloping effect, and every drum hit. And what wonders it does to the overall atmosphere of the record. if nothing else, the dynamics will make you feel as cold as the music.
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