SHADES OF BLACK (PART 2): CARPE NOCTEM AND ÁRSTÍÐIR LÍFSINS — “ALDRNARI”
Earlier today I promised a second installment in this weekly column, and this is it, though it focuses on only a single release — but it’s a big one, album-length in size and featuring the work of two bands who have always made a big and very favorable impression: Carpe Noctem and Árstíðir lífsins.
The name of this new split is Aldrnari and it’s set for release by Ván Records on April 24th. It features cover art by Artem Grigoryev and is said to explore “themes of death and war, fire and life”. Each band contributed one song to the split, each of them more than 22 minutes in length, and both are now up for listening on YouTube. We’ll briefly consider them one at a time.
Carpe Noctem‘s song is “Hrækyndill“, and it’s the follow-up to this Icelandic band’s last album, 2018’s Vitrun. The performers are vocalist/lyricist Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson, guitarist Andri Þór Jóhannsson, bassist Árni Bergur Zoëga (Árstíðir lífsins, Wöljager, Helrunar [live]), drummer Helgi Rafn Hróðmarsson (Misþyrming), and guitarist Tómas Ísdal (Misþyrming, Naðra).
I have seen this bit of poetry associated with the themes of Aldrnari:
Fire I see burning, and the earth aflame.
The travelling blaze, bright alive and ash-black in absence.
The death of every tree.
Trees we are, numerous in forms, but a single victim all together.
Sacrifices we are named, carved from driftwood.
Fire for the sake of fire.
Destruction not as antithesis to life, but its unmasked core.
A relentless force of insatiable hunger.
Voracious tongues create glorious visions, swords of death carried on its flame.
We yearn for the oblivion of the yew tree.
We pray for the biting worm to sever the chain, once and for all.
Carpe Noctem‘s song is in keeping with these themes and sentiments. Setting the stage with long, dark chord reverberations and a neck-popping drum rhythm, the band unfurl intensely dramatic music that sears and soars, rages and relents into sounds of pitch-black desolation. As the guitars whirl and slither, spiral and shine, deep growls, tormented howls, and excruciating yells create spine-tingling sensations that are somehow both reverent and savage, defiant and slaughtered.
The music always seems to operate on a vast scale. It often has the kind of surround-sound, senses-enveloping power of a symphony orchestra. Anchored by sludge-heavy bass and relentlessly gripping but continuously versatile drumwork, it creates passages that are full of tension and turmoil, boiling over in frenzies of seeming despair, as well as long cascading waves of momentous, apocalyptic melody. When the band do slow the pace and soften the sound, for example with gossamer-light guitars over electrifying drum-pounding, the music still has the feeling of a saga.
Over the course of this musical epic, there are moments of heart-breaking sorrow, both in the resonance of the trilling and chiming melodies and in the harrowing, devastated sound of the vocals as they fall to near-gasps or wail in seeming grief. Nearer the end, cold winds seem to blow across barren wintry plains, creating a mood of isolation in the midst of hostile elements, as a bleak prelude to a final gale of pain and hopelessness and the sounds of thunder and crashing waves or rain.
Songs of such great length succeed best when they make you lose all track of time. This is one of those.
The song by the Icelandic/German band Árstíðir lífsins from the split is “Hvers viðar bani“, and it’s sung in Old Icelandic. The performers here are Stefán (Wöljager, Helrunar [live] on guitars, bass, vocals, and choirs; Árni (Carpe Noctem, Wöljager, Helrunar [live]) on drums, string instruments, effects, vocals, and choirs; and Marsél (Helrunar, Wöljager) as storyteller and providing vocals and choirs.
The sounds of thunder and waves (or rain) that ended Carpe Noctem‘s track are also heard at the outset of “Hvers viðar bani“, but here they are joined by the soulful, plaintive sound of classical strings. When the drums begin to pound and tumble, a mystical melodic motif surfaces, and then suddenly the power and intensity of the music swells by orders of magnitude, presaging the arrival of solemn choral voices, and eventually by pummeling drums, feverish riffing, and scourging harsh vocals.
Much as in Carpe Noctem‘s song, there is a near-deranged tension in the trilling riffs and a feeling of ominous magisterial power and encroaching calamity in the grand, heaving movements of the song. The vocals change repeatedly, falling into harsh muttered words and baritone singing. The ebb and flow of the song carry it into periods of grand funereal gloom, like a mass for endless ranks of the dead; into the haunting yet entrancing sounds of ancient music accompanied by deep spoken words; and elevating into episodes of panoramic spectacle, created by dense waves of ravishing riffs and accented by booming drums and by melodies of ethereal beauty. Wordless choral voices sound like fallen heroes of a lost age.
The music is beautifully layered, combining light acoustic instruments, ringing keys, the wash of those guitar storms, continually changing drum patterns, and a wide array of vocals, both clean and harsh. Like Carpe Noctem‘s song, it reaches heights of such power and dramatic intensity as to swallow the listener whole. At the zeniths of that power, it is often unmistakably bleak, yet there is here too a feeling of larger-than-life grandeur as well as a feeling of punishing tragedy.
Bringing back the penetrating lament of those mournful strings and the sounds of thunder and rain create the perfect close, not merely to this stunning composition but to a stunning album-length split. It gently ushers the listener into a time to begin reflecting on the elaborate and disturbing musical pageant we’ve just experienced, an immensely powerful and intensely moving split by two formidable bands that seems likely to withstand the tests of time.
I would add that Árstíðir Lífsins have a new album named Saga á tveim tungum II: Eigi fjǫll né firðir that will be released by Ván Records on May 22nd. I haven’t yet delved into it, but it’s high on my list.
I’m grateful to both eiterorm and Miloš for alerting me to this new split. Ván Records will release it on amber-colored vinyl, in a digipak CD edition, and through various digital channels. It will be made available on the day of its release (April 24th) at this location:
For more news about the bands and the album, watch these spaces:
Always excited for a new Árstíðir Lífsins, among my favorite Icelandic artists. 23 minutes really stretches my attention span but the song sounds fucking great!