Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Árstíðir lífsins - Jîtunheima dolgferð' (2010) 85/100.

Given how successful I’ve been when it comes to finding new up-and-coming bands through reliable record labels, I really don’t explore their respective catalogues enough. Ván Records, for instance, are a very reliable label. They’ve often churned out excellent bands, particularly in the black metal field. Profound Lore are a more recognised name, I’d imagine, but are also another example of a record label which has become known for spotting talent and propelling them towards greatness through solid promotion. Ván, whilst not exactly being a household name, still have a reputation of finding obscure talent, which is precisely what they’ve done in the form of Árstíðir lífsins. Although few and far between, bands like this aren’t unheard of. Árstíðir lífsins, much like bands such as Folkearth, have a huge line-up, although Folkearth comfortably take the biscuit. With such a huge line-up, I did struggle to believe that act of this proportion could be consistent. However, with their 2010 debut full-length ‘Jîtunheima dolgferð’, this joint Icelandic and German venture have proved that perceptions can often be deceiving.

As far as black/folk debuts go, this is one of the more solid additions to the back catalogue. I’ve noticed of late a rise in the standards of Icelandic metal, particularly in relation to black metal, though the Icelandic scene has its fair share of relatively undiscovered gems, and considering the strength that the German scene so often showcases, I had high hopes for this debut despite the concerns over the magnitude of the line-up and how such diversity could affect the state of the album. This band even has ties to some of those mighty Icelandic bands, including Skendöd. Going on reputation alone, this was always going to be a hit. Ván have worked well with fellow German acts such as The Ruins of Beverast and although it doesn’t always seem like it, they have a knack for uncovering bands with a diverse sound, such as the aforementioned German giant, The Ruins of Beverast. This album, ‘Jîtunheima dolgferð’, is another fine example of Ván’s overwhelming ability to be able to pick out the good from the bad. Although the German scene is noted for its black metal talents, it still has a lot of shit to sift through. However, when something like this falls into your lap, you know your tireless pursuits have been well worth it.

When it comes to black/folk bands, I tend to find I enjoy one side to the bands game more than I do the other. In terms of ‘Jîtunheima dolgferð’, this cannot be said. As songs like ‘Velkomin í lífið, ávarpar maðr sjálfan sig’ highlight, some bands were simply born to mesh genres together. This song, in particular, is a true highlight of the album. Spanning over twelve minutes, time flies by as we’re introduced to the magnificence that is Árstíðir lífsins in full swing. Towards the end of this track, in particular, the band showcase their ability to be able to fuse the two genres together whilst not damaging the subtlety of the folksy elements or harming the brutality of the black metal aspects. Given the sheer scale of the line-up and the fact that numerous musicians and singers are being used in vastly different ways, we already understand that this album is going to be very creative and even dynamic, just as ‘Haka kleifir berja ok brjóta við enda langrar ferðar sinnar’ showcases as the folksy elements break away and leave the listener with two different styles of black metal shrieking, alongside some very handy guitar riffs, also stylised in a black metal manner. The drumming is often very primitive, which perhaps doesn’t entirely suit the state of the album but it certainly is used well during the more visceral segments of music, particularly when the pace picks up and the tremolo riffs set into the background whilst the acoustics reign supreme over the top.

The majority of songs on the album begin and end in similar fashion, bar the short filler tracks and the beautiful ‘Eigi hefr á augu, unnskíðs komit síðan’, a song which makes the most out of the Old Norse influence and the folkish mannerisms by withdrawing the influence of the instruments and leaving a choir to sing almost the entire way through, cleanly and beautifully alongside a subtle sample of a blazing fire and nature’s dark side looming quietly in the background. As I said, most songs begin and end in a similar way. ‘Haka kleifir berja ok brjóta við enda langrar ferðar sinnar’, for example, begins with a quick blast of black metal riffing and blast beats, alongside excellent shrieked vocals full of passion and might. There is some use of a much deeper style of singing, somewhat akin to latter day Enslaved, in my eyes. Quickly, the songs evolve, integrating the folk side of the band into the mixture with ease and subtlety as not to intimidate the listener with overbearing folk influences. The clean male vocals, which are presented excellently on this particular song, are a fine addition to the album, as are the clean female vocals which occasionally pop up into full view, though this aspect is sparse and far more infrequent than the clean male vocals, which are used often.

Song length with albums like this can become a problem on occasions and this particular band don’t shy away from lengthy songs. However, each minute is used well and with such creativity that the song writing doesn’t ever appear to become an issue. The black metal elements are integrated well with the folk and vice versa. From the use of keyboards, to the haunting piano, every aspect seems to use up its allocated time in the spotlight well. The keyboards, in particular, are very subtle and will require the listener to keep an ear out for them, along with everything else that is happening simultaneously. Often folk inspired bands will overdo some aspect of the instrumentation. Be it the acoustics, the clean vocals and more often than not the keyboards, but not Árstíðir lífsins. The songs are well thought out though I would have preferred the likes of ‘Eigi hefr á augu, unnskíðs komit síðan’ to be used as an outro given how vastly different it is to the rest of the album. Aside from that, issues with this piece are few and far between. A really solid debut that will, hopefully, start to generate some support for the band in the near future.

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