The American black metal style has become more defined by what it isn’t rather than what it is. One of the largest and most sonically-diverse genres in the modern landscape of metal, bands incorporate elements of hardcore punk, death metal, avant-garde music, industrial, doom, sludge, and more into an ever-growing palette of sounds that begin to suggest at a certain point that what gives black metal its identity here in the States has become lost somewhere along the wayside. In its place, however, is an increasingly large collection of genre infusions and styles that bands use as the brushes with which they paint vivid, shifting soundscapes, full of emotional swells, valleys of cavernous dissonance, and roaring crescendos.
Chicago-based Vukari trade quite handily in this quintessentially American style of black metal, fusing straightforward aggression, tendencies for the experimental, and atmospheric guitarwork on their newest release, Divination, their first album for the mighty American black metal label Bindrune Recordings. The album opens with a two-part title track: from the get-go, the weaving guitars of “Divination I” leave trails of shimmering reverb in their wake as a light pulsing in the background wavers and eventually gives way to the attack of “Divination II”, a blastbeat-heavy work of aggressive atmospheric black metal with nostalgic, melancholic melodies throughout that set a somber and reflective tone for the album.
Thanks to the up-front leads and changes in melodic structure, it’s easy to tell tracks apart, and even when Vukari slow down to take a breath or hammer a section home, they manage to keep their composure and maintain the sense of momentum so often lost with bands like this. Every track is charged with a different energy – some burst forth from the gate in a blast of resplendent, soaring black metal, like “Cursus Honorum”, which switches into a particularly nasty punk-esque groove for a bit around the halfway mark, while others, like closer “Bathe in the Divine Light” take time to build into a larger structure before making any serious stride forwards. Vukari’s primary strength is in taming the wildly shifting flows of black metal running through the tradition of bands they come from and twist all of these into a cohesive whole, writing a musical manifesto of sorts on American black metal while at the same time creating an excellent album.
And really, Divination is excellent. Vukari is clearly a band that know what they’re doing in regards to operating within their genre, writing tracks that strike the proper balance between atmospheric and engaging, situated right at that rare point where the music is hypnotic yet still interesting to listen to and not something that just becomes background sound after a couple minutes. Where lots have tried to pull together the many intertwined threads of American black metal into a compelling, powerful album, Vukari is one of the few bands that has succeeded with flying colors, presenting a smorgasbord of sounds that all play off one another in kind, as well as just writing a damn good black metal album to boot.