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Tag: fortid

Haunting, Epic Grandeur From the Grimly Mighty Katla

The cover image of Icelandic art-rock band Katla’s new album Allt þetta helvítis myrkur (All This Hellacious Darkness), streaming at Bandcamp, shows a hooded man standing between a huge snowdrift and what could either be a snowed-in bridge, or the skeleton frame of some kind of industrial building. Either way, this haunting song cycle is one of the most darkly gorgeous releases of the year.

To the less familiar, Icelandic folk music has an especially enigmatic, otherworldly quality since some of it veers in and out of traditional western scales. Einar Thorberg Gu∂mundsson’s ominously drifting synthesized orchestration and layers of burning guitars rise and fall over drummer Gu∂mundur Óli Pálmason’s slow, funereal sway. The music here typically follows an arc that has more to do with classical music than any kind of traditional pop verse/chorus pattern. Most of the songs segue into each other. The lyrics are in Icelandic: smartly, the record comes with a lyric sheet.

Gu∂mundsson eventually enters with an angst-fueled intensity over gritty guitar distortion in the opening track, Ást orðum ofar (seemingly a love song), eventually segueing into the slow, enveloping, grim Villuljós (Error Light), a gracefully elegaic, fingerpicked folk riff looping in the distance. The sway grows toward a conflagration as Gu∂mundsson’s guitars pick up and spiral around. There’s a lull for a ticking loop and brooding orchestration, then the music slowly makes its way toward sheer horror in theinstrumental Likfundur a Solheimasandi, a simple funereal drumbeat adrift in the vastness.

Sálarsvefn (Sleep of the Soul) is also a dirge, forlorn belltone guitar over smoldering, anthemic minor-key changes; finally, it hits a gusty peak with the doublebass drum going full tilt in the background. 

A creepy music box-like synth riff kicks off Vergangur, a glacial, disquieting blend of ancient-sounding Icelandic folk themes, peak-era early 80s Iron Maiden, noisy Finnish punk in a Sielun Veljet vein and macabre, droning psychedelia.

Hvítamyrkur (Dark Light) has a somber cello solo amidst desolation, a searingly marching drive and a gorgeous, woundedly ornate guitar solo. The duo finally pick up the pace with an elegant gallop in Húsavíkur-Jón, gathering force from a serpentine drive toward crushing majesty.

The album’s ttle track is an art-rock masterpiece, a twelve-minute snowstorm epic that rises from a surprisingly delicate, Chopinesque intro through dissociative nubulosity and grimly triumphant turbulence. This trek through the wasteland doesn’t seem to end well.

The moment when the nocturnal pastorale that introduces the fifteen-minute Svartnætti (Dead of Night) comes as a shock. From there they sway through a smoldering pagan folk anthem and variations. Ironically, even with the symphonic coda, it’s the simplest and most straightforward song here. A lock for one of the best albums of 2021.

A Deliciously Venomous, Relevent Metal Epic From Fortid

Icelandic band Fortid play towering, darkly elegant classical-tinged minor-key metal. They love their venomous chromatics, they don’t waste notes – an underrated talent in this kind of music – and they steer clear of cliches. Their new album World Serpent is streaming at Bandcamp. Rebellion against fascists hell-bent on world domination is as ancient as metal themes get, but this one seems to be deeply rooted in the here and now – see track seven.

Ominous string synth orchestration builds to a gloomy waltz, the the spiky guitars kick in and the band launch into Awakening, over a slow, crunchy, brooding 6/8 sway with icy, watery vocals from frontman/guitarist Einar Eldur Thorberg. After an orchestral lull, there’s a tightly maniacal tremolo-picked assault with Kristján Einar Guðmundsson’s doublebass drums going full steam. Are we having fun yet?

The second track is Controlled Patterned Mental Process – sound familiar? A symphony of guitars tap and hammer furiously over a series of creepy chromatic riffs as this dystopic scenario unfolds. “We’re lost to self-destruction, infected humankind,” Thorberg bellows. As the music descends to a plaintive art-rock interlude, bass rises to the surface, then Thorberg builds a tantalizingly aching solo before the crush returns.

The chords reach condor-wing proportions and resonate throughout the vengeful anthem Insignificant is the Wormking’s Throne – metalspeak for “Microsoft, GAVI and Facebook are doomed.” Them the smoke from the battlefield grows denser and the rhythms get trickier in Supressed Opposition.

Son of a Barren Land has more contrast, between a dark folk theme in heavy disguise, an anvil chorus and a forlorn cinematic interlude peppered with machinegun fire. The obvious hit here is Pandemic, a grimly gleeful, steady, brisk doom metal number.

Beyond the Grips of Odium is a viking stampede with a chilly postrock edge and some of the album’s most haunting, unexpected changes. With its twin guitar leads and fist-pumping vocals, Perfect Annihilation is the big stadium singalong here. They bring the album full circle with Last Line of Defense – it’s not clear how this battle ends.

You’ll see this on the best albums of 2021 page here once we get to December. And we will – we’re going to win this one.