Sinmara’s previous release, the 2017 EP Within the Weaves of Infinity, was a notable turning point for the Icelandic black metal group: it contained a much greater focus on clearly defined threads of melody, compared to their debut LP Aphotic Womb. Aphotic Womb, twisting and dripping with malevolent dissonance, slid nicely into the burgeoning Icelandic black metal canon: it was more understated and bleak than the likes of Misþyrming or Svartidauði, but also considerably more accessible than Wormlust and other bands on the more adventurous side.
It’s not inaccurate to say that Sinmara’s sophomore LP, Hvísl Stjarnanna, is an adept fusion of the strengths of both Within the Weaves… and Aphotic Womb: it contains the relatively melodic guitarwork of the former and the ever-flowing, serpentine structuring of the latter. “Crimson Stars” features a passage with a lead not unlike light that has broken through dark clouds; the preceding moments hint at the breakthrough, with a climbing motif that appears multiple times before finally reaching above the surface. “Úr Kaleik Martraða”, as a whole, chooses few dissonant chords, whereas opener “Apparitions” builds tension with its apprehensive-sounding hook. In regards to structure, songs feel as if they are being constantly propelled by unpredictably swelling waves; there isn’t a reliance on any contrast between ups and downs, but rather on the consistent energy generated by frequent small shifts. (On a side note, this actually makes for a somewhat unusual listening experience: there’s a demand on the listener to pay attention to intricacies, because there are few glaring cues that signify a change in mood or tension. Effectively, Hvísl Stjarnanna is less “immediate”.)
Indeed, Hvísl Stjarnanna is a rather subtle, pensive work; and at its core, it possesses an unexpected vulnerability in the way that it conveys its melancholy and epic, mythological themes. Think back to “Crimson Stars”: there’s something almost transgressive in how a sense of hopefulness shines through during its most uplifting passage. It lacks cynicism, hints at a certain dreaminess and an unabashed love of the fantastical, of larger-than-life tales. Even the darker aspects of the album never come across as bombastic or unnecessarily dramatic; for instance, when “Apparitions” storms in, it’s with steely drive and steady-footed layering. On a more general level, Hvísl Stjarnanna combines a mournful atmosphere with dexterity, and it’s the interplay between its funereal elements and its vitality that make it a unique treatment, at least within its genre, of the themes it covers. Curiosity, apprehensiveness, grief, triumph, awe— a variety of sentiments embed themselves through turbulent transformations and contrasting guitar layers.
Certainly, Hvísl Stjarnanna represents a logical step in Sinmara’s evolution; it also succeeds in further setting the band apart from other members of the Icelandic scene. However, I fear its merits may be underappreciated insofar as it initially comes off as densely packed and lacking obvious moments of catharsis. There’s some risk in choosing to maintain a relatively unwavering level of energy throughout the album, and the fluid song structures may seem disorienting. Nevertheless, Hvísl Stjarnanna ultimately unfurls to reveal a dynamic set of emotions even amidst its ostensibly bleak atmosphere, and indeed will offer rejuvenation if you let it.
Hvísl Stjarnanna will be released March 8 and can be purchased and streamed at Bandcamp here.