Mondernte – “RÅ” Cassette (2020)

Hard to believe it’s been almost a month since my last post. I have no excuses outside of simply feeling like I didn’t have much to say on the music front. Have I run out of blog posts and anecdotes? Maybe. Perhaps I’ll start doing my album reviews as short stories, or haiku or interpretive dance videos. Probably not though.

Fortunately this unexpected little gem brought me out of my COVID post-election-post-innauguration stupor. I’d almost forgotten I ordered it given how long stuff is taking to make it from Europe to the US these days. But the other day this plastic hunk of onyx-black metal arrived from Iceland and I thought, “cool, I have something new to listen to, assuming I can get the drawer on my tape deck to work again,” which I did.

I’ll admit my expectations were marginal. I’m by no means a big black metal fan, despite the fact that I seem to have a lot of it, mostly on tape. But Mondernte brings something different on. It’s not blast beats and growls, but something more… I don’t know, perhaps more gloomy, more personal? This isn’t the sound of the hounds of hell tearing at your flesh or wailing despair. It’s the sound of the cold, damp, foggy forrest, the one with a lot of dead trees, where you’re lost and can’t find your way, the chill sinking into your marrow as it slows your reactions and mental processes, nature patiently cooling your body down degree by degree. First your toes burn, then they go numb. Then it’s the tips of your fingers, the lobes of your ears. The mist from your exhalations creates a layer of not-quite-frost along your upper lip as the color drains from your extremities. Those female voices.. where are they? Everywhere… and nowhere… are they coming from shrinking core of you soul as the flame slowly dies to just a flicker, dangerously close to going out? And will you embrace the blackness when it does?

This thing is a must-have, and you better get it while you can because the cassette release is in a ultra limited edition of 50 copies. Get yours on Bandcamp HERE.

Vansköpun – “Alsæla Gegnum Endurfæðingu” (2011 / 2017)

Somehow Vansköpun slipped under my radar for quite some time. Their only release, the three-song Alsæla Gegnum Endurfæðingu, originally came out on cassette back in 2011, and in 2017 it got the vinyl treatment from Greek label Cold Void. It’s not like I’m “Mr. Icelandic Black Metal Guy” or anything, but I have quite a bit of it on my shelves. Though to be fair, that’s more a function of those artists being Icelandic as it is me being into black metal, and my friends in Reykjavik often grab me copies of what are usually very limited releases. The two cassette versions of Alsæla Gegnum Endurfæðingu only combine for 184 copies. As for the vinyl, the label’s promotional materials clearly indicate it’s “Limited Edition”, but I can’t determine how many copies were pressed.

Alsæla Gegnum Endurfæðingu is a bit more on the aggressive side of the black metal spectrum – definitely not ambient, and not so much sludgy and thick as all covered in sharp edges and razor blades. The blast beats aren’t like beasts emerging from the earth, but more like lighting strikes coming out of the sky to obliterate you where you stand. The vocals don’t wail despair but are instead accusatory, making it clear that all of this is your fault and you will be paying the ultimate price for all eternity very, very shortly.

At only three songs and 19 minutes, your soul doesn’t have much time left on this plane before it will be finally sucked into the lake of fire, though for my ears that’s generally about enough black metal for one session. All the music is on the A side, with the B side given over to a cool etching of the album cover. There’s also a nice glossy one-sided lyric sheet insert, so make sure that’s there if you’re picking up a copy of this dense briquette of concentrated evil.

Óreiða – “Óreiða” (2019)

There’s a surprising amount of black metal coming out of Iceland these days, and perhaps even more surprising is the range of different sonic experiences they provide, from the guttural growlers with their machine gun drumming to the the atmospheric hellscapes, there’s a lot of breadth.

Óreiða has taken it’s own path to darkness on its self-titled debut, a cacophonous and unrelenting irresistible force of sound, like a moving sonic wall pushing everything before it, never slowing, never stopping. In fact, I’m not so sure that black metal is even the right descriptor for this. I’m not even sure the English language has the right word or combination of words to describe it. Is that a flute I hear on “Daudi”? I’m not sure, but whatever it is gives the song a strange folk flavor despite the guitar that burrows into your skull. The most classically metal song on the album is the closer, “Draugar”, with its repetitive underlying riff and lightning-fast-if-understated drums.

The good news is you can listen to Óreiða on Bandcamp HERE. The bad news is that the limited edition vinyl (100 copies in splatter, 150 copies in black) are sold out, so you’ll have to get them on the secondary market.

Utzalu – “The Loins of Repentance” (2017)

Most of the black metal I’ve heard over the last few years has been from Europe, but Utzalu are just a three hour drive down I-5 from me, based out of Portland, Oregon. Their sound is more traditionally metal than that of many of their contemporaries – the pace never stops, the double-bass drumming incessant, the songs taking on an almost thrash velocity. There’s nothing gloomy or atmospheric here, just straight in-your-face blackness.

Give these guys a listen at Bandcamp HERE. Looks like the vinyl is limited to 300 copies, with another 200 on cassette. I recommend checking out the title track, “The Loins of Repentance”, a slower, stomping piece that will crush your soul just a little more with each plodding step, grinding it into dust to be blown away by the hot winds of hell.

Örmagna – “Örmagna” (2019)

For someone who doesn’t listen to a lot of black metal, I sure seem to buy a lot of the black metal coming out of Iceland.

One of the newest entrants to the scene is Örmagna, a five-piece that has connections to some of the recent greats in Icelandic black metal, including Naðra vocalist Ö handling the vocals and Misþyrming‘s D.G. helping with the mastering. Similarities, however, pretty much end there.

Örmagna opens with a brief, distant-sounding and slow instrumental, which initially made me nervous about the sound quality. Those fears were immediately put to rest when “Háskinn í Seljunum” kicked in and it started to become clear what Örmagna had in store for my ears and my soul, the weight and density taking on an oppressive character and suffocating all hope. The disconnect between the super-fast black metal drumming and the doom-ish guitars and bass on “Náladoði” offer striking contrasts in both speed and mass, with each side battling for supremacy within the confines of the song, a contrast that shouldn’t work but yet does.

Örmagna is available for listening on Bandcamp HERE. For the vinyl you’ll need to go to the Signal Rex website to order. The good news is it’s only €15. The bad news is they only pressed 250 copies of this bad boy, so you’d better get it while you can.