Árstíðir lífsins – Saga á tveim tungum II: Eigi fjǫll né firðir [Things You Might Have Missed 2020]

Árstíðir lífsins was perhaps my most joyous discovery of 2019. I’ve heard Norse-themed black metal done before, but never the way this trio does it. Saga á tveim tungum I: Vápn ok viðr confidently strode into my top ten for the year, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating the followup record ever since. These German/Icelandic storytellers have an affinity for authenticity, history, and mythology — not to mention talent, knowledge, and ambition in spades. The result that Saga á tveim tungum II: Eigi fjǫll né firðir not only feels like a natural continuation of its sister album, but easily meets and exceeds my high expectations.

If you thought Saga á tveim tungum I was perhaps a touch too long for your tastes, then I am thrilled to inform you that this album is even longer — seventy-four minutes chock-full of stuff to digest and enjoy. As ever, Árstíðir lífsins deftly balance black metal and acoustic neofolk, taking cues from all over the map. In broad strokes, the album utilizes icy riffing, acoustic interludes, snarling rasps, massive chanting, clean singing, churning intensity, and frigid calm — occasionally all on the same track (those would be “Ek sá halr at Hóars veðri hǫsvan serk Hrísgrísnis bar,” the seventeen-minute album closer, and “Gamalt ríki faðmar þá grænu ok svǫrtu hringi lífs ok aldrslita,” the absolute bane of my word limit). That’s the key here; on Saga á tveim tungum II: Eigi fjǫll né firðir, and indeed, in general, Árstíðir lífsins have so much going for them that seventy-four minutes feels like a fair time for this story.

And what a story it is. After a setting the mood with dark acoustic work and somber narrations, “Sem járnklær nætr dragask nærri” kicks the album into high gear with a straightforward, strong display of the Árstíðir lífsins sound. Highly melodic, with a good balance of chants and growls, this song is the argument for why you want this band in your life. It flows into “Gamalt ríki faðmar þá grænu ok svǫrtu hringi lífs ok aldrslita,” upping the atmosphere and dispensing acoustic plucking atop powerful tremolos before leading into an awesome melodic sendoff. Speaking of which, four of the album’s nine tracks are acoustic or ambient in nature, and this too is key; Árstíðir lífsins sport the same heavy-handed production they’ve used in past releases, so the breaks from their electric instruments is important both for storytelling and ear-resting. In particular, “Um nætr reika skepnr” does a terrific job of tying together frozen strings, ominous melodies, and grim whispers into a chilling slice of aural storytelling.

On a whim earlier this year, I listened to the full Saga á tveim tungum in a single two-and-a-half-hour sitting. What struck me the most about the experience was how naturally the two albums flow together. They’re built similarly, utilize the same storytelling conventions, and feel identical in scope. I feel this is an improvement over the first album, but my main impression is that this is how two-part albums should be. This is a fitting conclusion to an epic saga, and I am beyond excited to hear what comes next for Árstíðir lífsins.

Tracks to check out: “Er hin gullna stjarna skýjar slóðar rennr rauð,” “Sem járnklær nætr dragask nærri,” and “Gamalt ríki faðmar þá grænu ok svǫrtu hringi lífs ok aldrslita”

« »