Martröð – “Transmutation Of Wounds” (2016) Cassette

First of all, a black metal band with six members is in and of itself unusual. Throw in the fact that they come from four different countries (US, France, Italy, and Iceland) and you’ve got a pretty unique band.

Transmutation Of Wounds consists of two tracks and clocks in at just over 16 minutes. Originally released digitally and on vinyl in 2016, the following year it also got the cassette treatment by Iceland’s black metal label Vánagandr. The songs give me what I expect. Each opens with a slower segment to set the mood before everyone takes it up a notch and the growled lyrics start. Martröð aren’t lightning fast, nor are they gloomily atmospheric, instead finding a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, a spot with weight but that also has some occasional moments of fleeting beauty, particularly on “Draumleysa”.

Both songs are available on the Martröð Bandcamp page HERE.

Nornahetta – “Synesthetic Pareidolia” (2017) Cassette

Originally released as a single-sided 12″ and CD by the Portuguese label Signal Rex, Synesthetic Pareidolia also received the cassette treatment from Vánagandr, which makes sense given that the Iceland-based label is operated by Nornahetta member Tómas I. (♠)

Synesthetic Pareidolia is a cacophonous 16 minutes of slamming darkness. Historically we’re presented with two different versions of hell. The first is hyper-organzied, a bureaucratic nightmare of planned-out pain and torture like the levels Dante identified in Inferno, each dedicated to a specific subset of suffering and punishment. The other is unbridled chaos and pain and fire and The Lawrence Welk Show reruns and demons tearing away your flesh, an eternal parade of terror. Synesthetic Pareidolia is more the latter, a wall of sound pounding you into submission, with only a few brief interludes of organization during which you can catch your breath.

The song can be heard in its entirety on Bandcamp HERE, and the band has copies of the vinyl and CD for sale there as well. I don’t see the cassette there, nor on Vánagandr’s website, so not sure you can track down the tape if you want to go old school.

(♠) Like so many musicians in Iceland, Tómas I is a member of a number of bands. In his case this includes Naðra, Misþyrming, Carpe Noctem, 0, and Grafir.

Skáphe – “Untitled” Cassette (2017)

Seems like it’s been a while since Iceland’s premier black metal label Vánagandr put out a new tape, so I was a bit surprised and excited when I found one in the box that came in the mail the other day from Lucky Records. I felt like the kid in Time Bandits finding a chunk of concentrated evil. It’s the second Skáphe release put out by the label, but the first one I’m hearing because the other cassette got completely destroyed by my previous tape deck, probably its way of trying to warn me of the dark power the tape contained.

Untitled could just as easily be called “VII”, since that’s the name of the only track on the album, a 22-minute song that is so depraved it simply repeats on the other side as well because I’m not sure you could handle 44 minutes of unique music from Skáphe. Comprised of elements that are at times completely at odds with one another, and at others perfectly aligned and committed to destroying your soul, “VII” comes doesn’t provide you any respite – even the slow parts are heavy. The most notable element to my ears is the drums which at times feel as if they’re possessed by a spirit as they go flying off on their own pace completely separate from what the other instruments are trying to do and creating a very jarring effect that throws off your equilibrium.

You can experience Untitled HERE if you dare, all 22 minutes of its abyss-opening glory.

Úrhrak – “Kvikindi” Cassette (2015)

If you’re a regular follower of Life in the Vinyl Lane, you’ll know I’m a fan of the Icelandic black metal label Vanagandr. I try to pick up everything that they put out, but there are still some holes on my shelves because of releases I’ve missed. Fortunately I was able to fill three of those holes while in Reykjavik for Airwaves, as my friend Gestur tracked down a few for me. One of those was Úrhrak’s 2015 three-song cassette Kvikindi.

Kvikindi is atmospherically heavy. That’s not to imply it’s primarily instrumental – we’ve got plenty of anguished hell-borne vocals piercing the musical doom curtain to reach out for your soul in an effort to drag you back underneath the sound and into the depths of despair. The tempo generally stays sludgy, though at times the drums try to break free from the rest of the sound with their machine-gun-like double-kick action, but even they can’t alter the course of this beast as it consumes everything before it. The third track, “Mold Er Hold,” probably comes the closest to breaking free of it’s chains and exploding outward, with he guitar work showing more variety and range than on the other two tracks, though never trying to keep pace with the drums when they decide to speed-rumble.

The album is available online HERE, so if you’re feeling a bit too upbeat and need to remind yourself that the world is full of pain and sorrow, give Kvikindi a listen.

Naðra – “Allir Vegir Til Glötunar” (2016)

This is the last of the tapes I ordered from the Icelandic metal label Vánagandr a few weeks back. I reviewed and enjoyed another Naðra tape a while ago, 2014s Eitur, so I was looking forward to hearing some new material from these black metal soul crushers.

Lately it seems like a lot of the black metal I’ve been hearing is slow and heavy, musically reminding me more of doom than anything else, but that’s not the case with Allir Vegir Til Glötunar which comes at you full force right out of the gate with merciless despair and anger. I wondered if the marathon side A closer “Falið” was going to venture into the slower, more plodding style given it’s 14+ minute length, but no, no sir, not at all. There are some gothic elements to it with some soaring, moaning backing vocals, but it’s still a full frontal assault on your ears and soul, all crashing drums and screaming. (♠) What I enjoy most about Naðra, beyond their musical talent, is their pacing. Not with a molasses-like slowness than lulls you to sleep, nor with so much speed that you aren’t getting so much a song as a wall of pure noise, but somewhere in between, a place that maintains heaviness and machine gun drumming while keeping it all on the rails and musical.

You can check out Allir Vegir Til Glötunar for free HERE, and there is a vinyl version as well put out by Fallen Empire if you want to go that route.

(♠) OK, it does slow down a bit in the middle, but never gets down to that sludgy doom crawl.