Autumn in vermillion colors

VERMILIA: Ruska

Release year: 2022
Label: self-released

Some time around the time of Finnish one-woman act Vermilia’s debut album Kätkyt (2018), I saw the project described as “hygge black metal” – a pretty derisory remark in a way, but also apt.

Hygge is a word which trended during the COVID-19 pandemic, Danish/Norwegian for homey, cozy, something like that. A fireplace, wool socks, and a cup of something warm to drink. You know. And definitely, there’s a sort of easy-to-chew, instantly accessible, even homely feel to Ruska, Vermilia’s second album.

But let me be clear on one point: I mean that in no derisive way. I understand how it could be construed that way. But the truth of the matter is that Ruska is a good album.

To be sure, in terms of extreme metal, it’s sort of “extreme metal lite” in the sense that there’s little inherently extreme here. Hoarse black metal shrieks, tremolo-picking riffing and blast beats carry to the layman an aura of extremeness, but Vermilia don’t build anything particularly raw, abrasive, harsh or confrontational with these elements.

Taking cues from the pagan/viking oriented melodic black metal of the early noughties, Vermilia open up vistas of desolate nordic landscapes of uninhabited plains, snow-capped mountains and ice-blue rivers flowing through the autumnal landscape with Ruska. Some of the riffwork is slightly folk-tinted in the same way many an act did back then, evoking certain associations to Storm and Isengard, pioneers of a folk-element in black metal. Shamanistic/pagan drumming and chanted vocals add a sort of slightly vague, mystical heathen touch to the music, whilst the synths – present abundantly but not dominatingly – with their viking-style melodies add familiar touches of pagan/viking metal of yore.

But I reiterate: none of the “softness” of Vermilia is a bad thing. In fact, as far as more pagan oriented black (or blackened) metal goes, this is by far one of the best albums I’ve heard in a while.

Vermilia has a couple of things going for her big time. First of all, her knack for epic, aching melodies that vividly paint up aforementioned imagery. In a nutshell, Vermilia knows how to write a great melody and song. Secondly, her versatility as a vocalist: she can just as well belt out a hoarse black metal croak, as beautiful clean vocals. And her clean vocals can go from pseudo-ritualistic chanting to melancholy and majestic melodies.

The combination of a thoroughly familiar pagan black metal sound, well-written riffs and melodies, and an aced performance in the vocal department help make Ruska an impressive album. It’s a bit of Stom and Isengard, a bit of Moonsorrow, a bit of Falkenbach, but the vocals add a strongly personal touch.

I must admit I didn’t really have many expectations for Ruska. I remember thinking the debut Kätkyt was OK but not my cup of tea, and I suppose I was expecting something similar to that. Boy, was I wrong.

Because I really, truly like this album. Sure, it’s “hygge” in the sense that for someone who’s been listening to extreme metal for over 25 years, much on Ruska feels extremely familiar and snug, easy to slip into. But the album’s magic is that it doesn’t matter. Despite familiar building blocks, Ruska manages to have a distinct character of its own.

Visit Vermilia on her official website, Bandcamp or Facebook

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