At least within the realms of extreme metal, Iceland is probably best known these days for black metal, with that charred chalice being carried high by a surprisingly large number of bands (many with interlocking line-ups) for such a small nation. But other cauldrons of musical extremity boil within the stark, dramatic landscapes of that remarkable country, and we get the sense that even across genres, bands set standards for each other to meet and surmount, if they can. That may be one reason why Iceland’s musical output has been so consistently good, despite the relatively small population.
As evidence that black metal isn’t the only exceptional music coming out of Iceland these days, today we’re presenting a full stream of the self-titled debut album by a group called Vofa, who with this release should make a rapid ascent toward the higher plateaus of funeral doom — even though the music itself seems like a horrifying descent into madness.
We present this complete stream on the day of Vofa’s release by Funere (Armenia) and Exhumed Records (Ecuador), and so you won’t have to wait to pick it up. And you won’t have to guess about whether it’s worth having.
The album consists of only three tracks, but each one is monumental, each one ranging from 12-13 minutes in length. Before today, two of those tracks premiered elsewhere, but now is the time to listen to all of them straight through, as was intended. It’s a harrowing journey, but one that’s enriched by changing sensations — of ethereal beauty as well as dread and despair, of vice-like oppression as well as bone-fracturing calamity, providing visions for the mind’s eye of death and the void, and perhaps even glimpses of what might lie beyond those terrible horizons.
A wash of eerie, haunting sound opens Track I and leads into a meditative and mesmerizing sequence, one created by a slow, potent drum rhythm; the low, moody hum of the bass; crystalline ringing notes; and the ebb and flow of shining ambient tones, which become increasingly piercing as all of the band’s instrumentalists gradually dial up the energy of the music. Eventually, cavernous howls and tortured screams reverberate through the perilous vibrations of low chords and the clawing of discordant leads. Music that began in such spellbinding fashion becomes increasingly unnerving, and even demented. The building tension never completely breaks. Although bursts of percussive mayhem hint that things are about to fly apart, the music instead drops into a wounded, stagger, and the melody becomes more daunting and oppressive.
Another sequence of ambient sound moves the music seamlessly into Track II, which becomes a slow-motion crusher, so despairing and emotionally mangling that it dwarfs the oppressive sensations that emerged near the end of the opening track. The groaning and moaning low-end frequencies create a heaving momentum, shrouded in poisonous distortion, while the abrasive leads vibrate with their own manifestations of sinister cruelty. The song becomes more intense as soaring wails, paired with throat-mutilating shrieks, create a truly frightening vision of pain and hopelessness
As in the first track, the drummer injects extravagant fills into this slow, plummeting descent into barren desolation, while also inflicting sledgehammer-like blows straight to the spine — and near the end he switches into an animated tribal rhythm that will get your pulse pounding. The finale brings an invigorating though hallucinatory mix of skull-busting drumwork and narcotic riffing.
Once again, Vofa use a wash of haunting ambient sounds to pave the way into the Track III, in which ringing guitars appear again. But unlike their appearance in the opening track, here the feeling is depressive, and that feeling deepens dramatically when Vofa again slowly bring down crushing heaviness at the pace of a ponderous stomp. A head-nodding duet by the rhythm section signals the piling on of intensity once again. The vocals are no less frightening than before, and the melodies are at least as narcotic and queasy as what happens at the end of the second track. But soon enough, eerie shrieking leads, hard-thrusting bass rhythms, and rambunctious drumming begin to push the music closer to the brink of madness — and eventually the band leap over the edge, becoming catastrophically destructive — and the music’s disorienting start-stop momentum somehow makes the devastation more frightening, although the skin-splitting intensity of the vocals have a lot to do with that fearsome impact, too.
The album ends with the vocalist’s ghastly proclamations seeming to come from farther and farther away, until all that’s left are strange, quivering, mystical vibrations that will put your teeth on edge one last time.
Having heard such a well-constructed and well-executed album, it came as no surprise here that although Vofa is a new name, its members are not newcomers. They prefer to remain anonymous, but we can say that for the last 15 years they have all contributed to the Icelandic underground scene across many genres, including black metal, death metal, punk, grindcore, hardcore, electronica, folk, and doom.
The artwork for the album was created by Nona Limmen, and it is being released by Funere and Exhumed Records in a jewel-case CD edition with a four-page booklet, as well as digitally. They recommend the album for fans of Mourning Beloveth, Mournful Congregation, and Evoken.