The most interesting splits, in my experience, are the ones where the bands involved sound distinct from one another, but share enough of a kinship in some way to justify teaming up on the first place. Ironically enough, the black metal scene is replete with those who prefer the comfort and safety of numbers; otherwise solid acts feel muted when they’re grouped with another band with more of the same to offer: same chords, same lyrics, same tradition. In contrast, bands pairing distinct, separate sounds together is a good thing for everyone. The strengths of each band are emphasized through the contrast and the listening stays fresh throughout thanks to the combination. This kind of practical alchemy is the reason I still find myself playing the split between Enslaved and Emperor, a decade-plus now since first hearing it.
There’s that same feeling of “complementary distinction” between Order of the White Hand and Nordwind on Victory Monument of Death. In the case of this split, Order of the White Hand serve a role comparable to Enslaved’s contrast against Emperor when cast alongside the significantly faster, more ravenous Nordwind. I don’t mean to analogize either of these bands directly so much as say that there have been similar contrasts on splits before and they tend to work very well. Order of the White Hand play a melodic, folk-oriented style that isn’t out of line with the Finnish norm. The Canadians in Nordwind are more comparable with their labelmates in Absurd than anything; violent, proud and fast, and not beyond occasionally writing riffs with melodic appeal. The common ground between the two lies in their shared pagan roots, and that is more than enough cause for the two to join forces.
Order of the White Hand’s side is considerably longer than Nordwind’s, although it doesn’t feel that way when you’re listening to the split. The first side of Victory Monument of Death is deceptively light and melodic; “Veri Ja Kunnia” opens with an upbeat folk rhythm before leaping into thick mid-paced riffs. Order of the White Hand’s style covers a lot of the typical bases for pagan-black metal, although repeated listens to their side has made them out to be very skilled riff writers. Compared to the biting assault Nordwind has in store on the second side, it’s remarkable how upbeat the Finnish contribution to this split is. There’s no doubting Order of the White Hand mean to issue a call to arms to their pagan brethren, but their music sounds triumphant and proud. They choose not to let loose with rage in their music. For this, Order of the White Hand’s side ends up feeling like a slow burn. Many of their riffs are very memorable (arguably moreso than Nordwind’s) but the atmosphere doesn’t do a lot to grab me.
Having been a fan of Nordwind after hearing their debut Wendehorn a couple of years back, I knew relatively well what to expect from their half. While I wasn’t too taken by Order of the White Hand’s side, the sudden contrast from mid-paced folk metal to vicious traditional black metal was renewed proof of the effect a well-planned split can have. Listening to the sides back-to-back, “The Bones of All Men” comes in like a shock to the system. The chaotic riffs here are offset by a purposeful sense of songwriting. The vocal performance is appropriately monstrous and violent. Although Nordwind’s side is just over two-thirds the length of the first, there’s a lot more going on from moment to moment. The three originals here are very solid, as is the cover of Absurd’s “Triumph of Death”. They clearly “get” the spirit of the original, although the sharper musicianship gives the cover a life of its own.
All of the members of Nordwind also play in Hostium. While the two bands on this split are well-matched, I would have said the opposite, had Hostium been the band represented here. Despite the aggression in their sound, Nordwind’s music is ultimately about a cultural pride in one’s identity. That is the common ground between these two. Although I have a strong preference for Nordwind’s side of this arrangement, both halves of Victory Monument of Death are worthy. Order of the White Hand’s is solid and memorable in its own right, and I admire the choice of both bands to join forces with another in spite of such different sounds. I would say Victory Monument of Death succeeds in its aim to find the common ground between the two. It’s not a pair of individual experiences so much as a wide display of the different routes artists can use to get to the same goal.
01) Order of the White Hand – Veri Ja Kunnia
02) Order of the White Hand – Sworn to Fight
03) Order of the White Hand – Rautainen Tahto
04) Order of the White Hand – Northern Resistance
05) Nordwind – The Bones of All Men
06) Nordwind – Pagan Priestess
07) Nordwind – Triumph of Death (Absurd cover)
08) Nordwind – Reveries of Holocaust