Iotunn – Access All Worlds Review

If any of you are fellow Dungeons & Dragons nerds, which of course you are because you listen to metal, you should be familiar with the concept of a natural 20. Well, lately I’ve been experimenting with literally randomizing what promos to pick, using a single line of code to spit out a number corresponding with a place in a list. This time, the code landed on an unassuming sounding debut by a band called Iotunn, marked as space rock. Imagine my surprise when fellow prog lover Huck N Roll informed me that instead I’d landed on a very promising chunk of Metal Blade backed cosmic progressive death metal with none other than Jón Aldará (Barren Earth, Hamferð) on vocals. But is it the expected critical hit, or does it turn out to be a fumble after all?

Surprise, Iotunn kicks all sorts of ass. Access All Worlds strikes the perfect balance between grand hooks, majestic melodies, progressive structures that seem to describe an anthology of sci-fi narratives, pummeling death metal assaults and thick, cosmic atmosphere. It’s an endlessly gorgeous journey through unknown galaxies. “Voyage of the Garganey I” is catchy and beautiful yet heavy like a neutron star, which still does not hold the infinite gravity well of the short, battering “Laihem’s Golden Pits.” Album pinnacle “Waves Below” sports the best riffs I’ve heard this year and a fantastic, smooth solo. The back half sees a little intergalactic homesick melancholy creeping in between the lines of “The Weaver System” and enormous closer “Safe Across the Endless Night.” Despite an hour running time, there’s very little I’d shave off; perhaps a minute or two from the title track and the closer would have tightened the whole up a notch, but it’s like looking for a ping-pong ball in the rings of Saturn.

Aldará is the star of the show, and not even for his enormous belted cleans alone, excellent as those are. The true grandeur of the music is underlined by his versatility, as he handles every style with apparently unending ease. His heaving growl is practically legendary, “Laihem’s Golden Pits” sees him flexing blackened snarls in the chorus with uncanny viciousness, and he employs a coarse shouting style which is perfected on “Waves Below.”1 Not that any of the other performances are slouches. The dual guitars from brothers Jens and Jesper Gräs are tight and technical while never being short of emotional connection, with fantastic melodic riffing and solos. The rhythm section is incredible as well; bassist Eskil Rask deepens the sound with melodies countering the main lines, and drummer Bjørn Andersen is an absolute beast.

The only fly in the soup is the production. It’s not completely and utterly ass, but as soon as you play Access All Worlds on even semi-decent equipment, it becomes quickly apparent that the master is quite flat and squeezed. The drums in particular sound downright neutered, and it inhibits the grandeur that oozes from the compositions’ every pore. On good headphones, this platter should be enveloping me like a NASA space suit and pummeling me with the force of a black hole tearing stars apart, but Fredrik Nordström’s production doesn’t have the breathing room to do that. Perhaps this is an issue Rask brought over from his other band, Sunless Dawn, which was kicked from list consideration over the utterly bricked mastering. Thankfully, the issue is not nearly as bad here; just bad enough to be a clear mark against an otherwise almost flawless record.

Across the spectrum of metal genres, the early contenders of 2021 have begun to arise. Thrashers have their Demoniac and Paranorm, traditionalists have their Significant Point, black metal fiends have their Ruins of Beverast and their Misotheist, Kronos has Ad Nauseam. So it was about time those like me, who love their metal progressive and heavy and melodic all at the same time, got their own banner carrier, and Iotunn is perfect for the role. Gargantuan, adventurous, impeccably composed and perfectly executed, Access All Worlds is an absolutely monumental quest through the cosmos.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: February 26th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. I swear my neckhair pushes against my lockdown haircut every time he roars ‘something was here / and might still be!’
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