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New Release Review: Hulder – Verses in Oath (20 Buck Spin)

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If you look back with fondness at the symphonic black metal that rose to prominence in
the mid to late ‘90s-—and I certainly do, as this stuff was my personal gateway to the
genre as a whole—Hulder’s second LP Verses in Oath captures this era with such
precision that it evokes hyper-specific sense memories: Necropolis Records sampler
CDs, Red Stream mail order catalogs, Century Media Black’s Firestarter compilation
with the wooden match in the spine of the jewel case. So much so that I decided I
couldn’t give it a final review until I listened to it in the forest at dusk. Granted, the nature
trail in Bronx Park isn’t exactly the icy Scandinavian woods in fimbulwinter under a
freezing moon (where there’s probably way fewer used condoms and Four Loko
empties), but I gotta work with what I’ve got here; I had bare trees, a carpet of dead
leaves, an evening chill, and Verses in Oath in my headphones, loud.
After a pastoral intro of bird sounds and howling wind, “Boughs Ablaze” neatly
encapsulates the Scandinavian-style classicism of the album’s first half: furious guitars,
otherworldly synths, lyrics invoking “the grip of winter” delivered in a hoarse rasp, and a
folkish acoustic coda. “Hearken the End slows the tempo to the regal pace of Hellenic
black metal and introduces chanted vocals, while the chorus of the title track boasts the
LP’s biggest earworm melody.

A pair of experimental tracks divides the album in half: “Lamentation” closes the A-side
with about a minute of what sounds like manipulated soprano vocals, then “An Offering”
takes its time introducing side B with choral singing and layers of synth. There’s a
noticeable uptick in aggression on this latter half; back-to-back tracks “Vessel of
Suffering” and “Enchanted Steel,” in particular, verge on death metal in a way I don’t
recall Hulder ever doing before. Time will tell if this is a new direction we’ll hear more of
on future releases, or just a temporary deviation from second-wave reverence, but in
the present, Verses in Oath is a strong entry in Hulder’s growing catalog, and strongly
recommended for fans of Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, and Rotting Christ.

—Anthony Bartkewicz