Unsung Finnish black metal veterans Alghazanth have once again gone with a simplistic black/white cover image, long on metaphor, to adorn their 6th full-length Vinum Intus. It's quite striking really, from the single tree on the horizon to the turbulent well of souls, sewn out heart and beckoning grasp of the kneeling woman. It is on this image that my gaze lingered as I sought my way through the audio content, which is admittedly less busy than the previous, intellectual black metal assaults that dominated their early 21st century period like Subliminal Antenora or Osiris - Typhon Unmasked. That's not to say it's quite as compelling as the cover, but the return to the roots of their sound is a welcome one; think of this as a less intense alternative to their 1999 debut.
A lot of emphasis is placed on airy melodies here, bleeding through the song structures like cold streams that defy the enveloping ice of winter. None of them are particularly amusing or catchy, but they go a long way towards building the tone and mood of the mystical, dire lyrics of "A Living Grave" or the crashing "Under the Arrow Star". The riffs and momentum of the album evoke memories of the band's countrymen Horna and Barathrum, only polished here with the addition of symphonic elements: keyboards and sparse, operatic female vocals (especially in the track "Wine Within"). There are also acoustic and piano passages, as in "For Thirteen Moons" which help contribute to the feeling of belabored suffering, grief and grace that Alghazanth have trapped into these compositions like a lost soul frozen into a glacier, the blood and ice dripping in unison as the sun reckons across the North.
Vinum Intus (which I translate to something like the 'Wine Within'), is a 'pretty' album, glistening with sorrows and regrets against the overbearing rasp of front man Mikko Kotamäki, and if you give yourself able chance to lose yourself to its charms, then it's not a terrible way to spend a winter afternoon. However, apart from the overall, weighty atmosphere being manifest, it does not really have any moments that stand out too far above the rest, or really the rest of this band's career. The album ranges from forsaken triumph "(Triunity)" to agonizing lament ("Only the Reflection Bleeds") and back again, all with the skill of seasoned artisans, but it's unlikely to survive many seasons in the listener's memory.
Verdict: Win [7/10] (in dreamless sleep we're drawn)