Written By: Nameless N00b_16
Although not the first country that leaps to mind, Iceland is tailor made for a black metal scene. With thirty active volcanoes, a sun that can still shine in the middle of the night, and a winter that lasts almost precisely as long as summer, bands have plenty of inspiration in which to toil and leave their legacy on the sound. The arguable leader of these is Svartidauði, whose debut full length Flesh Cathedral received heaping praise and exposed the Icelandic scene to the world at large. A trio of EPs, six years, and minus one guitar player later, the unit is poised to again unleash another heaping slab of Icelandic blackened metal on unsuspecting listeners. What will be arising from the volcanic ash on this outing?
Revelations of the Red Sword sounds like Blut Aus Nords’ less mechanical manifestations got drunk one night and tried to recreate Gorguts previous full-length Colored Sands. The result is a dissonant, oppressive beast which never puts its claustrophobic atmosphere above the very human element at the core of the music. Þórir Garðarsson, the sole axeman for this outing, deserves heaps of praise for the effortless way he blends and contorts melodies that almost instantly melt into porous, evil overtones, while never letting the claustrophobia become overwhelming. Kickoff track “Sol Ascending” embodies this tendency with a lead riff that sounds almost optimistic before deteriorating into a murky chord progression that would make Luc Lemay smile in approval. Svartidauði work this formula for all its worth, whether through the almost emotionally fueled dissonance in the first two minutes of closer “Aureum Lux,” or the all-too-brief and tantalizing outro to “Burning Worlds of Excrement,” sounding eerily like a more human Cypher-era Spektr outtake.
But the biggest star of this album is drummer Magnús. This man is a monster, and elevates the album from good to nearly excellent, with creative tribal fills, (“The Howling Cynocephali,”) absurd snare play (that last minute of “Reveries of Conflagration”), and an overall refusal to settle into a comfortable routine. This works in flawless tandem with the guitar riffs, a constantly shifting magma of percussion under even the gentlest leads on display, as he and Garðarsson never quite seem to be playing in the same style at the same time. Garðarsson at his peak minimalism leads to Magnús at his most chaotic, and vice versa, and the two run the range this affords them across the whole span of the album. This is encapsulated in formerly released single “Wolves of a Red Sun,” which opens with a pseudo marching beat refrain and slowly winding leads, before ratcheting up the tension, all without either instrumentalist overtaking the others’ role. The net result is a pair that make for a marvelous team, creating a landscape for vocalist and bassist Sturla Viðar to bellow to his heart’s content. His vocals are a highlight of their own, constantly shifting from Imperial Triumphant sounding grit to Panzerfaust yowls, continuing to enhance the organic and very human element of the darkness.
No album is without its flaws, and Revelations of the Red Sword is no exception. Its biggest obstacle is its reliance on a constant shift from hyper clean to grittier tones, which at times have the unintended side effect of swallowing what could be increasingly pronounced leads into the din. “Sol” and “Reveries” main leads, while eventually mutating into different permutations of each other, at times can easily be confused due to their similarity, and this lends an element of hegemony to the proceedings.
These complaints are minor and minimized with careful time spent unpacking the album’s subtleties. Svartidauði have unleashed a real barn-burner of a record, one that threatens to overwhelm with chaos and intensity, while always masterfully scaling back into the faintest sense of beauty at just the right intervals. The final moments of “Aurum Lux” decrease the weight and allow the listener time to process what they’ve just gone through, ending on a chord just shy of hopeful—never quite giving into positivity, but allowing just enough light to contemplate the journey undertaken. Time will determine how it fares compared to Flesh Cathedral, but for now, this is an album that stands on its own merit.