A land blanketed in blackened volcanic ash, extreme cold that works its way not only under your skin, but penetrates deeper, getting its icy grip into the marrow of your bones. Could anything be more black metal? Hailing from the Kópavogur area of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, Zhrine rose from the deathly remains of Gone Postal. Somewhere between taking top spot in the 2012 Wacken Metal Battle and today, the voices behind Gone Postal noticed their sound growing darker, becoming more atmospheric and permeated with despair. The band buried their name and distinction, along with their old music, mutating into the beast that is Zhrine. Having never heard of either Gone Postal or Zhrine, and not initially picking up on their origin, I went into Unortheta completely blind. “Expect little and life will be full of surprises” about sums up this little exercise.
From the very first miserable note of ‘Utopian Warfare,” you can tell that Zhrine are not just your typical black or even death metal band. The progression opens with a forlorn simplicity that successfully captures the spirit of My Dying Bride‘s “The Dreadful Hours.” As the song evolves it introduces post-metal concepts and the kind of wavering radiance I’d associate with a band like Isis. Not being satisfied with a one-dimensional approach, Zhrine goes on to artfully incorporate a few moments of melodic death-doom of the October Tide variety before the wall of blast beats and murky black pickings take over. The remainder of the track writhes between these attributes, evolving with the characteristic style one’s come to associate with post-metal music. The big hook and draw-card in “Utopian Warfare” are the cavernous roars that intensify and eventually burst like an alien from Þorbjörn Steingrímsson – the man’s a beast, pure and simple.
The next phase of the album begins far more aggressively. “Spewing Gloom” and the tracks that follow include a second layer of vocals consisting of high-pitched screams that perfectly contrast the bestial roars. There’s no other credit given for vocal duties, so I have to assume that Steingrímsson is responsible for these also. If so, the man’s got quite the vocal range.
Bit-by-bit as you progress through Unortheta, you’re given tasters of Steingrímsson and Gylfason’s ear-catching guitar work that unrolls and then folds back on itself, riffing that’s percussive more than melodic and instrumentation that feels oddly playful one moment and cutting in the next. High points on the album include the environmental effects closing out “The Syringe Dance” – I swear these could be anything from a neglected neighborhood to an abandoned abattoir now home only to rodents and flies. Other stand-out moments include the spiritless drumming of “World,” the chiming bell-like guitar work that rings out from “Empire” followed by the regimental disposition of Stefán Ari Stefánsson’s drumming in “The Earth Inhaled. Then there’s the Ulver-styled melodies that dominate the back end of “World.” And finally, there’s the very obvious continuity between tracks (the shifts between “The Syringe Dance” and “World” or “World” and “Empire” standing out most in my mind).
On the surface and in short bursts Unortheta can appear to be little more than a wall of noise packed with muddy guitars and blast beats. But, this isn’t the case, Unortheta is so much more than that. It’s an album where lyrics are inconsequential and instead voices become instrumental and atmospheric, working in tandem with the the music to convey messages of chaos, discomfort, desolation and solitariness. My first encounter with Zhrine has proved Unortheta to be an interesting and introspective offering. I can safely say this will charm fans of an unlikely mix of stoner doom, black metal, death metal and post-metal, and you’d be wise to marinate in Unortheta if you’re a fan of bands like Mastodon, Isis and or Pelican.