Árstíðir lífsins – “Saga á tveim tungum II: Eigi fjǫll né firðir” (Ván Records)
Concluding the two-sided story constructed around the later period of the Norwegian king and saint, Óláfr Haraldsson (995-1030), this 5th album, along with last year’s predecessor, depicts the lives of two siblings and their individual experiences during the turbulent times of early 11th century Norway. Based much more on Skaldic, and also partly on Eddic poetry, “Saga á tveim tungum II: Eigi fjǫll né firðir” points to historical battles and other happenings as described in Kings’ sagas and other old Norse sources, despite the main characters themselves in the story being fictional. Sung entirely in old Icelandic, this concluding chapter was composed and recorded at the same time as its brother album, so is the perfect continuation in every aspect in bringing the astonishing soundscapes of Árstíðir lífsins, meaning ‘seasons of life’, once again to the fore! Skillfully forging epics crafted from the elements of black metal, ambient, folkloric chants and even string orchestrations, the composing talent is matched by the high musical abilities of Stefán (guitars, bass, vocals & choirs), Árni (drums, string instruments, effects, vocals & choirs) and Marsél (storyteller, vocals & choirs). Darkly slide riffing in on the 10 minute ‘Sem járnklær nætr dragask nærri’, it doesn’t take long before the savage speed hits, although it’s the thick, ominous atmosphere in the background that makes this song such a heavyweight, especially when the pagan choirs mix beautifully with chiming Norse melodies to build the captivating intensity that doesn’t let up a heartbeat from start to finish! Blastbeating in at nuclear levels on the 8 minute ‘Gamalt ríki faðmar þá grænu ok svǫrtu hringi lífs ok aldrslita’, Árni’s power drumming adds the dramatic contrast to the slower demonic drawls and screamo, while the whirring guitar touched off exquisitely by epic tones is no less affecting on the soul, as are the spoken narratives that evoke thoughts of mystical spells being cast amid a flurry of Nordic melodies. Reversing the polarity on ‘Um nætr reika skepnr’, the serenity couldn’t be more striking through its drawn out weeping violins and synth ambiance, providing the background to Marsél’s storytelling narrative as spoken through his deep voice, ghostly whispers and other sound effects. Blasting back in on ‘Er hin gullna stjarna skýjar slóðar rennr rauð’, the undeniable power of the whirring Nordic riffola is breathtaking, and when the dark choirs add their measure to the black screamo and melancholic violins, you know why Árstíðir lífsins are such a force to be reckoned with. Ending with the titanic 17 minute ‘Ek sá halr at Hóars veðri hǫsvan serk Hrísgrísnis bar’, the epic soundscape of guitars and chanting choirs mix with black drawls as the song becomes ever more intense through blast beating and shredding melodic fretboard work reminiscent of Dissection, while pagan chants and wailing guitars add even more darkness and beauty before a blissful mix of melancholic violins, acoustic guitars, spoken word and weather effects brings this utterly awesome track, and indeed, spectacular album, to a fitting conclusion. If you did not catch the last album, then do not miss this one….