Mannveira – Vitahringur Review

Let’s play a game. I write a word, you think of the first thing that comes to mind. Ready? Ok, good. First up: Holdeneye… Did you think, “4.0”? Well done. Next is a bit tougher: Anthrax... Did you think, “The worst of the Big Four”? You’re good at this! Last one: “Iceland.” If you didn’t immediately think “Cavernous, epic, dissonant black metal!” then you simply haven’t been coming to this site long enough. For a nation so tiny, Iceland consistently produces the best black metal in the world (although Norway and Poland are giving it a run for its money this year). More impressively, there is a distinct Icelandic “sound” that is immediately recognizable when you plug into it. So you can imagine my joy when a new Icelandic BM album dropped: Vitahringur (Lighthouse) by Mannveira. Although the band formed back in 2010, this is their debut, following an EP, Von er Eitur, in 2014, and a split with Ellorsith two years later. Promising a dark journey, I was excited for this one. Has Iceland reclaimed its BM throne?

When the first chords of opener “Ópin rjúfa þögnina” kick off the journey, this feels a bit like slipping on a comforting old shoe. There’s the dissonance of Misþyrming, there’s the unhinged madness of Svartidauði, there’s even some of the abstract weirdness of Hræ. The most striking difference between Mannveira and those bands, however, is that where they generally create a sound that is fast, expansive and cavernous, Mannveira is relatively sparser and more insular. They also employ a generally more sedate pace, with emphasis on atmosphere. The overall effect is that of being trapped in a small room, rather than an imposing cave.

While the songs themselves are certainly enjoyable, the main problem with Vitahringur is its inability to carve a niche for itself that is truly memorable. Many of the songs are good; few of them approach greatness. Perhaps all the hiding spaces of this particular sub-genre have been claimed. Perhaps the long recording process (it was produced in 2018 and 2019) sapped some of the original ideas. Regardless, very few of the songs stick in the brain once the final chords end. The ideas Mannveira borrows are all solid, but the band is unable to spin them into something truly unique. Too many of the songs sound like B-sides of albums we’ve already heard, whether it’s the Misþyrming-lite “Í köldum faðmi” or the not-quite-Svartidauði sounding “Framtidin myrt.” The sense of offering only minor tweaks to a well-thumbed recipe is inescapable.

On the plus-side, this is very competent Icelandic black metal, and I could listen to this sound all day. There are many wonderful moments, with closer “Kverkatak eilífra martraða” an especial highlight: combining all the aforementioned elements into an intoxicating brew that slides and slithers towards a terrible climax. The sound may not be original, but Mannveira have a firm grasp on it, demonstrated by the jittery, twisty, aforementioned “Ópin rjúfa þögnina,” which creates a uniquely oppressive atmosphere by slowing everything down. This enhances the atmosphere, which is appropriately evil throughout the record. The mix is not overly compressed, which allows the instruments some breathing space to work their malevolent magic.

If it sounds like overall I’ve been harsh on Vitahringur, it’s because my expectations for this genre are so high. Icelandic black metal is my kryptonite. Mannveira have given us a respectable debut, but it unfortunately struggles to really distinguish itself from its more famous, more complex contemporaries. It borrows heavily from its influences without offering anything particularly new or compelling. It’s not quite first tier, but sits comfortably in the second. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s only because Icelandic black metal is so ridiculously strong. Unfortunately, as a result, it is only an album I can  recommend to strict fans of the Icelandic black metal aesthetic. When I write, “2.5”, you think…?

 


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Dark Descent Records
Websites: darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/vitahr-ngur  |  facebook.com/mannveira
Releases Worldwide: July 2nd, 2021

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