Fenris Kindir is the eight full-length album from Swedish black metal solo project Arckanum, active since 1992. Sole member Shamaatae (Johan Lahger) is responsible for the vocals, all the instruments, and the entire conceptual framework of the band, which is founded on the idea of Chaos-Gnostic ideology rather than traditional pagan or Judeo-Christian ideas. Shamaatae is also the author of several books of occult literature, some under the pseudonym Vexior, which explore in depth many of the same ideas that form the structure of Arckanum‘s albums.
The language of Arckanum‘s albums have undergone a shift over the past few releases: while the lyrics were originally written in an approximation of Old Swedish, gradually they have come to more closely resemble Old Icelandic. On Fenris Kindir, we find Arckanum delving deeply into the Norse mythological character of the Fenris wolf, the child of the trickster god Loki, who grew too strong and hungry to control and was bound for all eternity. It is foretold that the Fenris wolf will break free during Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, and devour the sun and the moon. This album is dedicated to him.
The sound and production values are that of raw, even primitive black metal, but this is not an example of sonic obscurity for obfuscation’s sake. The distortion is deployed expertly, heaviest on the buzzing, insectoid guitar tone, making it overwhelm like an angry swarm, and lighter on the smokier, sepulchral vocals and echoing drums. There’s plenty of hiss and crackle, but it is used extremely well to create an intensely atmospheric and alien musical landscape.
The album is structured as a single piece, the tracks flowing into one another seamlessly when consumed all at once. Taken together, Fenris Kindir masterfully builds tension towards and inevitable, cataclysmic storm. Individually the tracks escalate this tension in their own ways, from the merciless drive of “Dolgrinn” to the excruciating, seething hiss of “Vargold.” Whether or not you speak ancient Icelandic, the narrative is perfectly clear, the end is nigh, the Frost Giants are coming. Because Fenris Kindir is a conceptual album about a star-eating dire wolf, not all the voices on the album are human. Woven throughout the rasping, guttural chants and wraith-like screeches are howls and barks from canine throats. Sometimes these non-human voices are woven together into a swirling vortex of noise, at other times it is a single, eerie roar or howl from afar that imparts both a sense of loneliness and a dire threat.
There’s much about Fenris Kindir that falls firmly within the straightforward, classic black metal aesthetic, and then there are moments of surprise, even experimentation. The aforementioned “Vargold” is the strangest track on the album, with no sense of melody, just hissing feedback, distorted voices that seem to issue from monsters, the stomping cadence of an approaching army, and animal howls. Moments like this, where things fracture and become alien, are sprinkled throughout the album, and keep the sound fresh while also never fully allowing the listener to keep their balance. It is the best kind of creative discomfort. Solo black metal projects are always in danger of becoming myopic, but with Fenris Kindir, Arckanum effectively avoids that. Moody, aggressive, relentlessly unsettling and epic in narrative scope, it tells the tale of the Fenris wolf as an unfolding soundscape. Demanding and strange, Fenris Kindir is the exact kind of abrasive album that is worth the challenge.