There are few scenes in the metal world that have drawn as much attention and critical acclaim as Icelandic black metal has over the past several years. Band’s like Zhrine, Sinmara, Svartidauði, Auðn, Wormlust, and a host of others have created a regional nexus for dense, aggressive, highly atmospheric black metal that has its own distinct voice, narrative, and songwriting style, and listeners like me can’t get enough of it. Perhaps the most influential purveyor of this style is Misþyrming, whose 2015 debut Söngvar elds og óreiðu catapulted them and the scene as a whole into the spotlight more than any record before it. It’s a masterclass of icy, jagged, and dense black metal that is as good a launch pad as any into the wilds of Iceland’s black metal scene. Their follow-up to that fantastic debut, Algleymi, dropped in May, and I listened to it. Once. I found it an enjoyable listen, then put it away for other records I was more focused on at the time. About a week ago Algleymi popped back up on my radar, and I decided to give it another go. Well over half-a-dozen listens later, I’m kicking myself for not having reviewed this record sooner. Not only is it the band’s best record, it’s also one of the best records of the year in any genre.
There are any number of factors that could be listed to describe why this album is so excellent, but the most immediate is the record’s sheer listenability. Black metal isn’t what I would typically describe as an inviting style of music, but Misþyrming have here created a sound that is both extremely hard-hitting and highly melodic, inserting enough earworm riffs into their songwriting to encourage mid-day humming from listeners for months to come. Opening track “Orgia” serves as a perfect example of this dichotomy. It’s opening moments are a pure rush of black metal darkness replete with robust blast beats and fantastically melodramatic guitar-driven majesty, cascading over listeners in a torrential outpouring of emotion. D.G.’s vocals, the best of his career, burst forth from the maelstrom with uncanny levels of hostility, further entrenching the track’s initially menacing tone. But as “Orgia” develops, it starts to unfold melodically in a big way. There are several riffs that make their way into the song that transcend the sheer brutality of its opening moments through resonant melodic lines, complemented by an absolutely massive percussive performance (executed with fervor and skill by H.R.H.) that very naturally switches gears from straight blasting into a more open style that somehow never loses its intensity. There is one particular passage just past the halfway point of the track that could be considered downright triumphant, latching onto a supremely catchy riff that propels the song to its soul-stirring finale. It’s a perfect example of what the band do best on Algleymi, and its qualities only further ascend from there.
While the band’s focus on the incorporation of melody into their black metal mix is a consistent high note of the record, equally compelling is the band’s riff-writing ability. Good grief, can this group write a catchy riff. I’m aware that “catchy” when associated with black metal is often considered a net negative for many of the genre’s adherents, but in this case it elevates the music to heights that the genre seldom reaches. Not only are Misþyrming adept at writing black metal passages that are as aggressive and insanity-inducing as any in the genre, their incorporation of rock songwriting into their music serves as a welcome deviation from the norm. In similar fashion to genre titans like Abbath/Immortal and Darkthrone, Misþyrming draw deeply from the well of classic hard rock, which adds a significant amount of hookiness to their compositions. “Ísland, steingelda krummaskuð” and “Og er haustið líður undir lok” in particular shine in this regard, dropping riff after riff of blackened rock that never once feels out of place or cheap. The band have thoroughly integrated a rock aesthetic into a brutal black metal template, which developes beautifully into tracks that never lose their sense of atmosphere, intensity, and aggression. Instrumental track “Hælið” ensures that the record doesn’t lose any steam on the atmospheric front during this general riff fest, further enhancing a marriage of style that makes these songs all the more engaging.
But, ultimately, if you’re a black metal fan you’re here for the icy darkness, and for all their focus on the most melodically engaging elements of the genre’s sound, their forte still remains the crushing, oppressive weight of black metal songwriting done right. “Allt sem eitt sinn blómstraði” kicks off the album’s final third with all the mania and audio violence one has come to expect from Icelandic black metal, unleashing an unrelenting stream of tremolo-picked passages that are as good as any in black metal. The album’s final two tracks, “Alsæla” and its title track, are no less aggressive, and do everything right when it comes to closing out a record of this magnitude, making good on the intense emotional crescendo that the rest of the record has been building toward, sending the record off in dizzying and electrifying fashion. It’s a finale that ties the records themes into one tight and comprehensive bundle, leaving me both satisfied and wanting more. Which is just about all I want from a record in any genre.
Algleymi is, on the whole, black metal at its most diverse and satisfying. Having given it yet another listen while writing up this preposterously late review I am only further convinced that this is one of the most compelling and richly rewarding black metal records of the year, and only further cements Iceland’s reputation as the world’s premiere region for modern black metal. If you are looking for a record that will in equal measure excite, challenge, and compel you into a headbanging frenzy, look no further than Misþyrming’s utterly fantastic sophomore outing. All hail the kings of Iceland. May their reign be great and terrible.
Algleymi is available now via NoEvDia.