Illkynja – Sæti Sálarinnar Review

A few years ago, my brother played tourist in Iceland. Completely unaware of extreme styles of music except that I’m partial to them, he comes back and asks “hey, what is black metal?” This is a guy who prefers Bon Iver over Paysage d’Hiver any day, so those words coming out of his mouth caught me off guard. He goes on to explain that the tour guide of the lava fields praised the Icelandic black metal scene for its cultural significance, considered crucial for what it represents. I’m unsure if this is accurate to the country at large or if that one tour guide was a fan (Icelandic friends, help a brother out and let me know), but it’s no secret that the Icelandic black metal scene has blown up in the last decade. Groups like Svartidauði, Draugsól, Misþyrming, and Zhrine lead the charge, depicting the scorched landscapes with an obliterating obsidian edge of relentlessness and bottom-heaviness, while Wormlust, Andavald, and Sjálfsmorð af Gáleysi create meditative earworms that writhe in avant-garde innovation. Is newcomer Illkynja worthy of inclusion among these ranks?

Illkynja,1 like many of its country’s blackened offerings, is a project shrouded in mystery. It’s unknown how many members are involved or how prolific to the scene–only that the project is Icelandic in origin. Goathorned Productions debut Sæti Sálarinnar2 3 features all the hallmarks of Icelandic style: scathing layers of dissonance, pummeling drums, and punishing roars reminiscent of Almyrkvi or Andavald. In attempting to bridge the two worlds of relentless punishment and otherworldly dissonance, it sounds a bit like last year’s twisted Wormlust and Skáphe collaboration. Ultimately, while Sæti Sálarinnar suffers from some amateur production and tonal issues, it’s a uniquely hellish addition to the burgeoning scene.

Sæti Sálarinnar is at its best embracing an organic flow to its tracks. Songs like “Allt er glatað” and “Dýrð í harmleik” succeed thanks to their organic ebb and flow, allowing its stinging melodies to guide the movements and relying on ritualistic plodding and disturbing vocal variety. Similarly, pummelers like the title track, “Guðhaus,” and “Pest” are nearly punky in their upbeat drumming, while eerie and disturbing melodies elevate any comparisons to Bone Awl or Ildjarn. Perhaps most telling is its Wormlust-esque focus on the dissonant, the one constant through Illkynja’s chaos. While the styles range from scathing punk to ritualistic doom depending on track, the dissonant melodies are omnipresent, painting a picture of hellish atmosphere with crystalline precision. While other Icelandic bands embrace the murk in dense production that feels like wading through molten rock, Illkynja is more than content gazing in its clarity, making their debut sound a tad like Portal’s ION in its unflinching interpretation of warped melody.

That being said, Illkynja is a young project, and as such, prone to missteps. Most notably, the album dynamic overall is scattershot: it begins with two tracks of midtempo pummeling, followed by three tracks of ritualistic meditation (including a useless ambient track), and concludes with four tracks of scathing punky pain. In this right, Sæti Sálarinnar does feel a tad like a compilation album, that while most tracks have a clear objective in mind, the holistic goal of the album remains hazy and like cuts (like the first two) tend to bleed together. Similarly, songs “Sjálfseyðing,” “Pest,” and the title track have the potential to be highlights, but are tragically let down by abrupt endings, awkward fadeouts, and too-short runtimes, making what feels like an appropriately unique Illkynja affair fall short.

For sheer potential, Illkynja belongs amid the echelon of Icelandic black metal. While countrymen like Svartidauði and Misþyrming specialize in abstract murk or obsidian obliteration, Sæti Sálarinnar feels unusually piercing in its production clarity and dissonance focus. Complete with warped guitar, heavy bass presence, frantic drums, and an absolute monster behind the mic, it’s a hellish listen, evocative in its depictions of chaos and torment. Featuring the hallmarks of greats like Wormlust, Portal, and Almyrkvi, it becomes its own beast entirely and earns its place. However, no thanks to amateur editing and tonal inconsistencies, it never quite finds its footing in its forty-two-minute runtime. However, oozing miasmic potential from every pitch-black orifice, Illkynja’s mark on a competitively burgeoning scene will be felt in albums to come – just you wait.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Goathorned Productions
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 15th, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Icelandic for “malignant.”
  2. “Seat of the hall,” according to Google Translate.
  3. Initially self-released in June.
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