(Andy Synn chooses the new album from Iceland’s Misþyrming as his final review of the year)
It’s crazy to think, now that I’m forced to reflect upon it, how long my (admittedly one-sided) relationship with Misþyrming has been going on.
After discovering them just prior to the 2015 edition of Inferno Festival (where I was fortunate enough to see them perform as part of a truly stacked three-band line-up of them, Sinmara, and Svartidauði), I’ve since written glowingly about them multiple times (and included both their previous albums in my annual “Great” list without hesitation) and also caught them live on several subsequent (and, arguably, superior) occasions.
And now, once again, Misþyrming have returned – almost without warning, and with very little fanfare – with a new album (and a new drummer) to give us all the punishment we deserve.
In a move that should be surprising to no-one – but which appears to have ruffled a few feathers all the same – Misþyrming have refused to simply repeat themselves on Með hamri.
The temptation must have been there, I’m sure – after all, many people (including some of us here) consider Algleymi to be, if not a perfect album, at least very close to flawless, and any deviation from it was always going to be treated with a fair bit of scepticism, or even outright scorn – but it’s clear, now more than ever, that Misþyrming continue to play by their own rules and refuse to take the easy path just because it’s there.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still recognisably the same band in a lot of ways, but whereas the group’s previous album was a carefully crafted masterclass in focussed fury and piercing melody, Með hamri is a noticeably grittier and rougher-around-the-edges experience, one that – in some ways – feels less traditionally “extreme” than its predecessor, but also more challenging and, perhaps, even more rewarding in the end.
From the frantic extremity of “Með hamri” and the bombastic blackened grooves of “Með harmi” to the sinister slow-burn and climactic conflagration of “Aftaka”, each of these songs feels as if they simply sprung to life fully-formed during the recording process, with a sense of raw energy and venomous vitality – as well as a dose of that classic “blood, fire, death” magic – that almost seems like the product of a spontaneous act of creation.
There are, however, a few things which belie this impression and prove that – as always – Misþyrming are fully aware, and fully in control, even at their most devil-may-care.
For one thing, the fluid songwriting, the dynamic intelligence, displayed on each and every track, is simply too intricate to be the product of mere chance, and the more you listen, the deeper you dig, the more you realise just how carefully these songs have been crafted and cultivated to grow and develop in an organic – yet, ultimately, consciously directed – fashion.
And then there’s the subtle but striking use of ambient and atmosphere-enhancing embellishments – such as the shadowy soundscape which bridges the transition between “Með harmi” and “Engin Miskunn”, or the eerily infectious synths pulsing away underneath “Engin Vorkunn” – that demonstrate the steely-eyed method behind all the malice and malevolence.
In the end there’s simply no denying that Með hamri is yet another triumph in a career seemingly dedicated to nothing less than the continued pursuit of the platonic ideal of Black Metal in its most perfect and primal form.
And while this is, perhaps, an impossible goal, Með hamri proves that Misþyrming are neither Sisyphus nor Don Quixote, and get a little closer to perfection each and every time.