There’s something about Icelandic black metal that just hits all the right spots for me. It feels frosty and cavernous and frightening. In a country with such a small population, it’s extraordinary how many amazing bands they have that just consistently knock it out of the park. Even when it’s weird, it’s good (Árstíðir lífsins). For some reason, I’ve always had a trio of albums in my head that I think best sum up Icelandic black metal: Svartidauði’s Revelations of the Red Sword for its fury, Sinmara’s Hvísl Stjarnanna for its cavernous and frightening sound… and Misþyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu because it’s so dissonant and unpredictable. As El Cuervo pointed out in his coverage of the band’s debut, Söngvar managed to be both avant-garde but also thrillingly, devastatingly alive. As a result, I was thoroughly looking forward to the follow-up. Algleymi arrived, and to the disappointment of some fans, it wasn’t Söngvar part 2. No, it was something else entirely, but definitely not something you’d want to miss.
The first thing to notice is that Algleymi is a lot cleaner and listener-friendly than Söngvar. It’s still furious, ice-cold black metal, but the overwhelming, dizzying dissonance has been focused into more manageable bites this time around. This makes it a much more immediate experience than its predecessor, which took time and multiple spins to get into. For all of its many virtues, Söngvar was sometimes so overwhelming and chaotic that it appeared that the tail was wagging the dog; that composer D.G. was being led by his nefarious creations, not the other way round. Here, there’s no doubt that the band has full control at all times, with the complexity clearly present, but never outshining the compositions.
The other impressive aspect is the seamless inclusion of other subgenres, including post-metal (“Með svipur á lofti”) and even hard rock (“Og er haustið líður undir lok”). These are combined expertly with the traditional second-wave sound of Scandinavian black metal to create vibrant and interesting tracks that don’t lose intensity on subsequent listens. The songs are dynamic and the album never loses its way, even for a moment, ending with the fantastic duo of “Alsæla” and “Algleymi.” This is the music of confident musicians, and the different styles mean that the runtime absolutely flies by.
Algleymi may not be the extraordinary avant-garde experience of Söngvar, but it’s a more mature record. It maintains the intensity we have come to expect from Icelandic black metal while being both more focused in its dissonance and more expansive in its compositions. With this album, Misþyrming has now expanded beyond the boundaries of extreme black metal and should find a broader audience, which is what music like this deserves. If you’re a fan of black metal, Icelandic metal, or just intense, dark music in general, do not let Algleymi pass you by. It’s one of the best albums of the year.
Tracks to Check Out: “Ísland, steingelda krummaskuð,” “Og er haustið líður undir lok,” “Alsæla”