There aren’t many contexts wherein ‘Icelandic’ forms part of a natural phrase to an outsider such as myself. If I think ‘American…’ I complete the phrase with ‘Horror Story,’ ‘Hustle’ or ‘Heartbeat,’ among numerous other affiliated terms. There are but two completions which spring to mind after ‘Icelandic’ for me: ‘beer’ and ‘metal.’ I therefore understandably privilege the overachieving country and am here to impart on you the knowledge of yet more exemplary cultural output. Arising from the igneous, krieg crust permeating the bedrock of all things Icelandic, Misþyrming is largely the work of enigmatic multi-instrumentalist, composer and frontman, D. G. It truly captures the essence of everything I perceive as Icelandic: brutal, cold and harsh, but earthly, beautiful and adventurous too. Söngvar elds og óreiðu is among the best black metal you will hear this year.
It makes for an unusual first listen, gripping you with its frosty, blackened, but ultimately orthodox fingers, before gradually relinquishing its subtler, atmospheric mysticism. It’s a rare album which is immediately striking with its shrieking, chaotic black metal core, but also rewards repeated listens as its avant-garde, melodic and atmospheric qualities stir in its depths. This isn’t just reserved for a few exclusively-ambient tracks scattered throughout (though there is one), but is subtly integrated into Söngvar‘s progression. Opener “Songür heiftar” features unnerving guitar twangs demarcating avant-garde touches used by such bands as Taarenes Vaar, and the tempestuous passages more commonly heard in black metal gradually divulge a dark and mysterious atmosphere.
Transitioning from this first song, Söngvar tracks a wholly satisfying course through its 44-minute length, clasping your attention close to its bosom throughout. The bar is raised by second track “…af þjáningu og þrá,” an even more satisfying slice of atmospheric black metal, before truly introducing the weirdness which elevates the material on “Endalokasálmar.” Despite retaining its brutality, the drums have a definite groove here, and the vocals take on a deeper, more unsettling, tone. It breaks after a suitably explosive climax into an atonal piano melody with a carnival-esque swing. The next track is the dissonant, ambient interlude which while unremarkable in and of itself, fits perfectly the album’s structure. This is juxtaposed by “Er haustið ber að garði,” which I can only describe as if serious black metal met upbeat grind, featuring an awesome buzz-sawing melody. Without devolving into a frowned-upon track-by-track review, things heighten over the second half as all previously utilized styles are drawn together into a couple of lengthier tracks and the album reaches its own climax. It goes such a long way to have a well-paced and digestible runtime as Söngvar does.
This will inevitably sound pretentious as fuck, but Misþyrming‘s début feels like it flows and breathes, and is almost sentient in its free-form yet precise depiction of Icelandic frostiness. The savage intensity some desire in their black metal is there, but its moody grace and clarity is what consolidates this into an excellent release. When this thing is available for the very reasonable price of nothing at all, there is literally no good reason why you should not be circulating wintry winds through your preferred listening space.
Tracks to check: “Er haustið ber að garði,” “Friðþæging blýþungra hjartna,” “Söngur uppljómunar”