(Andy Synn prepare this review of the new album by Svartidauði.)
As a fan of this weird and wonderful sub-genre we call “Extreme Metal”, you’d have to have been living under a rock for the past several years not to be aware of how impressive and influential (not to mention incestuous) the rapidly developing Icelandic Black Metal scene has become over the last several years.
But even though the scene is, in terms of wider international exposure at least, still relatively young, such is the prolific nature of the various bands and artists involved that a recognisable hierarchy of heretics has already begun to take shape.
And right at the top of the totem pole, in my opinion at least, are Svartidauði.
While it’s been a long six years since the band released their stunning debut album, Flesh Cathedral (which, I’d like to point out, is just as virulent and as visceral now as it was on the day it was released), these masked purveyors of metallic mayhem have been far from idle during this period, producing several EPs and tearing down stages worldwide, in a continued effort to hone their craft into an even more lethal form, all of which has culminated in the six scorching tracks which make up their brand new record, Revelations of the Red Sword.
Now, it’s worth pointing out immediately that, although the spirit and soul of this album is cut from the same pitch-black cloth, Revelations… is a different beast to …Cathedral, and while it is still recognisable as a product of the same keen creative minds it also represents a new chapter in the band’s ever-evolving sound and story.
For one thing all but one of the songs here are shorter than the shortest track on its predecessor, and even the record’s longest number – utterly spellbinding closer “Aureum Lux” – doesn’t come anywhere near the epic lengths of numbers like “Sterile Seeds” or “”Psychoactive Sacraments”.
And yet the shorter average length of the tracks this time around doesn’t mean the band have short-changed us in any respect, it simply indicates that they’ve refined their sound to the point where they can now deliver the same level of brimstone fury and conjure the same asphyxiating atmosphere in half the time.
For the most part Revelations… is also a bleaker, more menacingly melodic, affair than the group’s debut, although it doesn’t seem to have sacrificed an ounce of power or potency in achieving this (just check out the apocalyptic assault of “The Howling Cynocephali” for instant, and undeniable, proof of this assertion), with tracks like blinding opener “Sol Ascending” and its dizzyingly dissonant companion “Burning Worlds of Excrement” benefitting from a bigger, bolder production style that serves to highlight both the innate intensity and impressive intricacy of the band’s song-writing while also ensuring that the complex drums, cathartic vocals, and coldly technical guitars are all given equal space to shine.
In fact, when all is said and done, it’s this sense of balance, this bristling tension between order and chaos that underpins songs like the mesmerising “Wolves of a Red Sun” and the grim grandeur of “Reveries of Conflagration”, which makes this album such a truly superlative piece of work, one capable of evoking multiple moods and sensations even as it does its very best to peel the flesh from your bones.
So if, like me, you’ve already begun compiling your list of the year’s best Black Metal albums – or even a list of best albums in general – then you may want to take a step back and re-evaluate things before going any further, as Revelations of the Red Sword is the sort of game-changing record that demands (and deserves) to be given its due place right in the upper echelons of this year’s murderous metallic crop.
So, we only have to wait until the release of Gudveiki’s album next month to see who takes the crown of best Icelandic BM (and possibly best BM release period) this year. Either way, we all win.
The crown of best Icelandic BM? Are you serious? None of the scene and copycats wouldn’t exist without Svartidaudi.
What an oddly reactionary comment…
At no point does Anthony suggest that the band aren’t important or great. In fact he explicitly states that this is potentially the best Black Metal album of the year.
You seem to be taking issue with something no-one has said.
However, let me be clear, just because Svartidauði are one of THE most important bands in the scene, that DOESN’T necessarily mean that they’ve made the best album of the year. Opinions on that will vary, and no band is SO good that their new release must automatically be assumed to be the best.
In fact while I clearly think (and state above) that “Revelations…” is certainly up there, I can think of at least one other Icelandic album that’s at least as good.
It also doesn’t mean that the entire scene needs to be beholden to them… nor do I think that Svartidauði would expect them to be. Are you really trying to claim that if they didn’t exist that NO-ONE in Iceland would have decided to play Black Metal? Or are you just over-reacting to defend the band from some imagined slight that has no basis in reality?
Either way, that comment is not a good look for you.
I misread a part actually and that was my mistake:
“…to see who takes the crown of best Icelandic BM…” “…this year.”
I missed the part about this year, so I ended up emphasizing the importance of this band. And here is why and aswers to your points:
Well can’t really say the bands do compete with each other, but my statement of their influence on Iceland’s scene is factual. A big part of the bands that exist today wouldn’t without Svartidaudi or wouldn’t sound like they do without them. You can already see the influence in the scene by aesthetics alone. How many people there choose to wear face hoods and leather masks for example (which was started by this band)?
“In fact while I clearly think (and state above) that “Revelations…” is certainly up there, I can think of at least one other Icelandic album that’s at least as good.”
And this album is?
“NO-ONE in Iceland would have decided to play Black Metal?”
No, at no point I stated anything like this, but the fact is BM in Iceland wouldn’t be like it is today without this band, and you know it. There is no denying in how much influence these guys have had in others over there and how much even the actual people involved with these bands shape the “Icelandic sound” in practice. However that said, there are unique bands there also who don’t copy their sound but there certainly are a bunch of people there who do.
“Or are you just over-reacting to defend the band from some imagined slight that has no basis in reality?”
Well no, if you first put words in my mouth and then tell me I am defending those words, then it’s on you.
“Either way, that comment is not a good look for you.”
Do I have some sort of an imago to uphold or people to please?
See, this is a MUCH more coherent response.
The thing about your statements about how “the band that exist today wouldn’t do so, or wouldn’t sound like they do” (and, yes, you definitely DID say explicitly that the scene and the bands wouldn’t exist without Svartidauði, both in your original comment and the one I’m replying to) is that you CAN’T know this.
This isn’t me understating the band’s important or influence in any way, but if the band didn’t exist it’s just as likely the hole they left would be filled by someone else, and the scene would still have come together. These things are rarely (if ever) just down to ONE band, and one band only, but come together from a variety of internal pressures within the scene, so I simply cannot agree with your assertion that the rest of the scene wouldn’t exist without Svartidauði’s influence – yes, it may have sounded somewhat different, but the existence of an Icelandic BM scene does not hinge entirely on one band.
I would also disagree that I’ve put any words in your mouth. I responded to your original comment with a reasonable interpretation. Which feeds into my final point… no, there’s no “image” to uphold here, but you can’t exactly get mad when you make a statement like that first one, and someone reacts accordingly. It’s a lot easier to get your point across, and have a reasonable discussion, when you don’t come out swinging.
This will be very high in my list for 2018 for sure, and another great Icelandic release of the year can be no other than Carpe Noctem’s Vitrun. Interesting is the fact that the album was released on the same date as Flesh Cathedral did six years ago.
Why can’t I see my comment here, but I get an email notification that you have replied to that comment?
Ugh, I don’t know dude. The comment system has been a bit squiffy recently and I have no idea why.
I happened to see the number of comments had increased, and thought I’d see about continuing the conversation, but then I still haven’t received an email about your comment… so different boat, same river?
(And, thinking about it, there’s a chance you won’t see THIS either)
As you and Andy addressed in subsequent comments, I was only referring to 2018, and not any previous year. I find previous releases from Zhrine, Skaphe and Misthyrming all superior to Revelations of the Red Sword, but still think that this album is excellent and that only a few other BM albums this year are better. I also acknowledge Svartidaudi’s influence in Iceland, and the fact that they have actually released more than one full-length album already puts them in rarefied air in Iceland, considering how so many bands there have been less prolific to date. One final pont: when I met the guys from Zhrine in November 2016 in Toronto, we talked about their influences. Every Icelandic BM ban will coincide the Deathspell Omega influence to one degree or another, but few of these bands refer to other Icelandic bands as inspiration in any way, aside from the fact that many bands share common members.
Great write-up. This album is mesmerizing and more immediately ‘available’ than Flesh Cathedral. And yes, there’s at least one other Icelandic BM album (that you folks also covered) that is a contender!