Album Review: AUÐN Farvegir Fyrndar
The geological and folkloristic-minded among you are likely well aware that the name Dimmu Borgir was, in fact, hijacked from Icelandic folklore – its meaning signifying both the place where Satan landed when he was cast from the heavens and created "Helvetes Katakomber" (Catacombs Of Hell) and the location where the earth connects with the infernal regions. The darling's of Nordic black metal were quick to usurp the name of this Icelandic rock formation (though, in this particular case, spelled as "Dimmuborgir"). For the longest time, this was about the only association one could make as it related to Iceland and black metal. Well, that was then…
Icelandic black metal, for those who don't know, is currently all the rage in the world of extreme metal. In a very brief period of time, this isolated island country of approximately 330,000 people has produced an astounding number of black metal bands per capita. This fact is made even more mind-boggling when one considers that most of these bands hail from the country's capital of Reykjavík, a city of just over 120,000 inhabitants. To lend some context to this: think Fargo, North Dakota – a city of similar size – if it had over a dozen black metal bands, a few festivals, and a handful of genre-specific record labels. Definitely a situation where everyone knows everyone else's business.
Spewing Iceland's vast lava fields with molten, blackened metal are several notable bands, including Svartidauði, Wormlust, Zhrine, Misþyrming, Sinmara, Naðra, Rebirth Of Nefast, Almyrkvi, Abominor, Carpe Noctem, and Mannveira. The former, Svartidauði, are often credited with instigating this entire Icelandic love-affair with their legendary 2012 full-length debut, Flesh Cathedral. This album, though not the first of its kind to come out of Iceland, set the stage for what was to come.
Since then, the larger world of metal has been enhanced with Icelandic releases that run the gamut: some bands preferring traditional sounding old-school black metal, others a penchant for the vertigo-inducing calamity of Blut Aus Nord covering Deathspell Omega, while others take cues from the new-school aesthetics of blackgaze and its associated post-metal leanings. As a result, there exists a colorful collection of characters among the Icelandic contingent – those who revel in the the foundations and belief systems that black metal was founded upon – all the piss, venom, blood, and hellfire – and those who forego the tropes and malevolent aesthetics, choosing instead to focus on the rancor that is the music itself. Of the latter exists Auðn.
Hailing from Hveragerði, Iceland (about a thirty minute drive south-east of Reykjavík), the members of Auðn (pronounced phonetically as 'oh-then') are set to drop their sophomore release, Farvegir Fyrndar, on November 10th via Season Of Mist. The follow-up to their 2014 self-titled effort treads similiar waters – a (mostly) mid-paced and deeply atmospheric approach to black metal. With one critically-acclaimed release under their belts, it's not surprising the band would deliver a similar experience. This is a welcomed thing, as it's what sets the band apart from their Icelandic brothers, rendering Auðn one of the most exciting, entrancing, and jaw-dropping bands in all of Iceland.
You see, as much hype as there is for Iceland's contribution to the world of black metal, there actually isn't a whole lot going on that distingushes one subset of bands from the next. This isn't to say that Icelandic black metal isn't unique – a thing wholly its own – because it is. There is no doubt about that. First and foremost are those colossal, tsunami-sized walls of sound inherent to bands such as Zhrine, Sinmara, and, to a lesser extent, Svartidauði. Then, on the other side, there exists the experimental idiosyncrasies of bands such as Misþyrming and Wormlust. Combined, what we are left with is an impressive formation of bands, but a formation that leaves little room to breathe – crushed under the weight of suffocating, intoxicating, ruthless-yet-homogenous, all-kvlt-all-the-time black metal.
The overhwhelming misery and sense of dread that many of these bands inflict on the listener can grow a little tiresome. It's like eating macaroni and cheese for every meal; sure it's great, but, at some point, a ravenous craving for a big, juicey, blood-soaked steak (to balance out all that delicious cheeze) becomes unavoidable. In this case, Auðn is that top-quality slice of grass-fed Icelandic beef; a mouth-watering, decadent, and refreshing kick to the palette.
It's immediately clear that the guys have taken steps to distance themselves from the musical proclivities of their compatriots. Without doubt, the quality of musicianship displayed throughout Farvegir Fyrndar is light-years ahead of their brethren. In all fairness, perhaps this has something to do with the impeccable, world-class production than a lack of talent among their peers. Songs such as the opening duo of "Veröld Hulin" and "Lífvana Jörð" are given ample room to breathe through the use of lucid and expansive melodies that are as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the land they were birthed upon. To be clear, the band's use of melody is not what you might expect. This thing is about as far away as one can get from the post-this/post-that melodies found in the reverb-soaked, cascading riffs that have become the norm in contemporary black metal circles. There exists no finer example of this than the song "Prísund", which recalls the frigid, hateful inflection of Gorgoroth combined with the unnerving, off-kilter, galloping cadence of Inquisition. Without so much as a flinch, this track alone vanquishes all else in its path. Taking no prisoners, it's mid-paced, atmospheric march across vast ice fields and treacherous mountain passes is pure perfection. In perhaps the album's finest moment, "Blóðrauð Sól", the band invoke the hypnotic spirit of Burzum; though, filtered through cold, clinical Fen-like atmospherics. There is an inherent talent at work here – one that seamlessly bridges old-school with new-school, creating a collection of songs that could exist – on their own – within both the early 90's Nordic horde and the USBM scene of the mid-to-late 2000's. This, in itself, is ingenious.
Auðn, much to their credit, avoid all trappings of present-day trends. There is nothing else like them. They are, quite literally, strangers from a strange land – a band from an isolated country who are – in turn – further isolated as a result of their non-conformist approach to their art. I mean, how boring would it be if every black metal band from Iceland were expected to be all-kvlt-all-the-time? And what does this say about those who might call out Auðn for a perceived lack of kvlt-ness? After all, isn't black metal, at its very core, non-conformist?
In the end, there are those within the Icelandic black metal community that could learn a thing or ten from Frarvegir Fyrndar – an album that blazes its very own path across the frigid northern skies. It's this non-conformist spirit that will see Auðn transcend the confines and isolation of their homeland. If Iceland won't have 'em , the rest of the world most certainly will.