Árstíðir Lífsins – “Saga á tveim tungum I: Vápn ok viðr” (Ván Records)
Battle Helm Rating
Oh wow, as beautiful and wild as the Icelandic landscape comes the stunning music, nay soundscapes of Árstíðir Lífsins, an Icelandic / German trio made up of members from underground bands such as Helrunar, Kerbenok and Skendöd. Conceived to approach old norse history, literature and art in a musically and lyrically sophisticated way, black metal was chosen as well as the use of pagan folk and ambient aspects to create deep and vast atmospheres of tranquillity and intensity – very much like the contrasting landscape of fire and ice! Employing the multi instrumentalist talents of Árni (Drums, Percussion, Viola, Cello, Organ, Vocals, Choirs), Stefán (Guitars, Bass, Piano, Vibraphone, Vocals, Choirs) and Marsél (Vocals, Choirs), “Saga á tveim tungum I: Vápn ok viðr” is sung entirely in old Icelandic and took 5 years to make, probably as a result of being a double album, the latter half of which will be released later this year. Centred around the history of Norwegian king Óláfr Haraldsson (aka Olaf II of Norway), “Saga á tveim tungum I: Vápn ok viðr” is over an hour long taken through a journey of 9 epic tracks of magnetic proportions evoking huge atmospheres as well as deep emotions that cannot be understated. It’s not just the obvious power but in many cases, the ingenious use of tranquillity and spoken word that has added so much to the overall intensity and heart stirring passion on this captivating 4th album. At just over 10 minutes ‘Líf á milli hveinandi bloðkerta’ is a slick blend of dark drawls, screams, cold metallic riffing and blast beating contrasted by deep, sombre choirs, Icelandic spoken verse and huge pagan melodies all superbly arranged to contrast yet flow effortlessly into a soothing ambient passage of droning throat singing and soft melodies before returning to the atmospheric intensity. Slightly longer is ‘Stǫng óð gylld fyr gǫngum ræfi’ with its initial cold chiming melodies and evil drawls soon exploding into a blast beating and screaming frenzy, then with a brief spoken word, intensely riffing into an epic piece abundant with rich scandinavian melodies before transitioning into a gloomy almost doom like episode of ominous whispers and down tuned melodies until the hammering war drums lead into the halls of valhalla with warrior choirs atmospherically providing the splendid backdrop to beautiful flowing guitars, screams and violins in an utterly moving culmination. Ending it all is the 15 minute ‘Haldi oss frá eldi, eilífr skapa deilir’, beginning slowly with deep sombre choirs and dull primal drums, but soon giving way to fast black ice riffing, evil drawls and chopping beats interspersed by spoken word and illuminating melodies before plodding off death doom mid song and then building epicly once more through droning chants, cellos and more spoken word in varying tempos to finally end with slow violins and cellos bringing the full melancholia to bear on the final poetic utterance. Simply unforgettable, even the band’s name meaning ‘the seasons of life’ in Icelandic is as mesmerising as their music.