Icelandic black metal is an unstoppable force that has yet to meet an immovable object. Over the past decade, bands like Svartidauði, Misþyrming, Zhrine, Sinmara, and a host of others have catapulted the vibrant scene of this small Scandinavian Island into a rarely achieved stratosphere of respect and reverence in the black metal community. Drenched in icy atmosphere, arrayed in jagged dissonance, and undergirded by a strong sense of melody and a propensity for the avant-garde, it’s music that is as immediately recognizable as it is elusive. Within these hallowed ranks, newcomer Illkynja spread their frosted wings with a collection of tracks that blend many of the scene’s best elements into an off-kilter, thoroughly beguiling whole.
As a debut, Illkynja’s Sæti Sálarinnar is about as complete a package as one could hope for from an Icelandic black metal outfit. Winding passages of intense, abrasive, intricate guitar pummel listeners into a necrotic oblivion while the band’s patient and menacing drum work undergirds the proceedings with a sense of propulsion. All of the above are staples of the scene, and by themselves could make for an engaging album. But Illkynja bring a unique blend of elements to their music, helping elevate Sæti Sálarinnar beyond the status of standard Icelandic black metal release. Vacillating between melody-heavy, straightforward atmospheric black metal and eerier, more haunted and experimental textures, Sæti Sálarinnar feels like the hybrid child of Andavald and Wormlust/Skáphe’s collaborative record Kosmískur Hryllingur, channeling heaps of atmosphere through a semi-experimental prism that helps the music stick out from its contemporaries. “Guðhaus” in particular highlights the blending of these elements beautifully, mixing hardened aggression and spacier compositional elements beautifully. Album closer “Dýrð í Harmleik” also displays the band’s significant range and songwriting chops, moving a slow-building, mid-tempo black metal dirge to an insanity inducing riff fest that feels by itself like a showcase of everything the band does well. There isn’t a dull moment on the record, and if you throw in the album’s lo-fi and angular production job, fans of Icelandic black metal will find plenty to satisfy their urge for primal darkness.
It may be a relatively young scene in the grand scheme of metal as a genre, but Icelandic black metal continues to be a unique, talent-filled, and unusually reliable space for high quality black metal. Illkynja is no exception to the above rule, and I am confident that those who give Sæti Sálarinnar the time it deserves will find themselves richly rewarded by a record that balances experimentation, atmosphere, and direct blasts of frigid black metal with expert precision. I cannot recommend it highly enough for fans of black metal from Iceland or anywhere else on the planet. Thrilling stuff.