Label: Signal Rex
We live in exciting times for black metal. As much as I might bemoan the tired nature of much of the genre at times, it is impossible to deny that there are a number of incredibly strong and creative scenes and bands active today. Nowhere is this more evident than in the modern Icelandic scene. With their debut mini-album/EP, Endalok demonstrate that they deserve to be mentioned in the same context as the likes of fellow countrymen Naðra, Misþyrming, and Wormlust, whilst also asserting an identity all of their own. A 23 minute tour de force, Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar is a record that should see this band gain far more of the attention they deserve.
The swirling, primordial chaos that is so characteristic of the Iceland underground is clear right from the opening of first track ‘Afskræming holds og sálar’, and yet there is also more to it; a more pronounced sense of unease and hostility than is typical. A roiling, murky atmosphere reigns supreme, with the vocals being buried deep in the layers of filth. The guitars don’t so much play riffs as they conjure up darkness, with the occasional lead or movement rising up from the depths to add extra texture and character. The feeling is one of stumbling lost through the fog and mist, with the ruins of once-familiar landmarks in the distance giving you some sort of direction, making this a terrifying experience that is easy to get swept up in. The use of dark ambient aspects – as during the introduction to ‘Eldhaf’, and for the full duration of fourth track ‘Ekkert varir að eilífu’ – compliments the metal elements well, and adds to the other-worldly, mystical feeling. It is a very unwelcoming listen, and yet at the same time it is difficult to pull yourself out of the spell it casts: this record is as captivating as it is repelling. The trap it puts the listener in – caught between being pushed away and pulled in – is deeply uncomfortable, but also incredibly rewarding.
There is real depth to Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar, as difficult as it may be to discern at first. The discordant, inhuman atmosphere may rule supreme here, but there is plenty to be discovered in the way the riffs move, and the many subtle shifts of tempo. The rhythm section is especially clever, adding plenty of subtle elements in that go unnoticed without multiple listens. These songs twist and curl upon themselves, forever moving in unexpected directions, but with familiarity comes some sort of understanding of how Endalok are creating such unsettling, seemingly other-worldly music.
What impresses most about Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar though is that, over time, with patience and effort, it is possible to peel back those dark, chaotic layers, and find glimpses of the twisted humanity that underpins the record. For sure, those initially spins are heady and exciting, filled as they are with a sense of awe at how music like this came to be, and how black metal can still be pulled in to such uncomfortable, hostile shapes. But the real reward comes once a fraction of understanding is gained, when the riffs and vocal lines become more familiar, and a glimpse of the dark promise those initial listens suggested is seen for the first time. It is unsettling; it is unwelcoming; it is absolutely glorious.
Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar is set for release on January 20th 2017. It can be pre-ordered digitally via Bandcamp, and on vinyl via Bandcamp and Signal Rex. The vinyl version also contains the Englaryk demo on the B-side.