Icelandic black metal is having a true renaissance at the moment, with bands gaining international renown. From the dense oppressive nature of ZHINE through to the psychedelic chaos that is MISÞYRMING there is no doubt that the country is producing some of the best black metal in the world. It is somewhat ironic that a country known for having such amazing scenery that millions travel there to witness it, has very little in the way of the often nature focused atmospheric style of the genre. Enter AUÐN, whose first self-titled album already set them up as a promising act to watch as it concisely set out epic sweeping soundscapes no doubt inspired by the aforementioned natural beauty. Three years after this, with only live activity to sustain fans in the meantime, the band are set to release their sophomore album through Season of Mist, entitled Farvegir Fyrndar, (which roughly translates as Ancient Riverbeds).
Opener Veröld Hulin begins with the slow beat and has the listener nodding their head even before the main riff begins to be layered over. A slow moving track that laboriously pulls treats the first half of its length as an introduction before unleashing the aggressive snarled vocals and pounding drums that much atmospheric black metal lacks. This continues into the next song Lífvana Jörð and is not to say that the tracks lacks atmosphere but rather that AUÐN show versatility from the start by crafting this atmosphere not just from the slower melodic parts of their songs but throughout.
Haldreipi Hugans offers a contrast to these as it is heavily led by its melodies and quieter moments, perhaps not unsurprisingly as it is the longest track on the album. Its length is warranted however as the band use it to build the epic feeling that lurked in the first two tracks into a soaring and powerful last third of the track. The vocals throughout the album are perfect for the style with a deep slightly rasped element to them. These are demonstrated to great effected on Prísund which places them centre stage throughout. Ljósaslæður is another slow building track and the clear production only adds to the sense of scale the band build with their mid-paced melodies, rejecting the repetitive hypnotic approach to the style in favour of crafting fine melodic passages amongst the maelstrom.
The beginnings of Blóðrauð Sól could almost be described as rock inspired before they quickly give way to another icy cold vocal dominated performance. The running order of songs on the album and the refusal to group those with the same focus and hooks together serves to both showcase the versatility of the band as well as ensuring it is difficult to become bored with any of the well-executed styles through repetition. Eilífar Nætur opening passage enforces this as its sense of the epic is complimented through the use of its less melodic sections. Blending these together in a way which does not feel jarring or forced is an achievement in itself and AUÐN manage it with a natural smoothness that others should take note of.
Skuggar is the best example of how the band manage to create a truly epic sound on the album. From its slow beginning, to the contrast that creates with its mid-paced central section, to the truly beautiful use of the guitar solo towards the end of the track, it could easily be considered one of the finest example of how to build what could be just dissident noise into something majestic and sweeping. The standout track on a standout album. Closer Í Hálmstráið Held could have suffered from following this but holds it’s only with slow melodic passages and solo’s that almost upstage its predecessor. Finishing strong doesn’t quite do these two tracks justice.
In Farvegir Fyrndar AUÐN have created something very special. A record that seamlessly blends the best qualities of atmospheric black metal, its sweeping soundscapes and beautiful melodic passages, with the cold and dissonance of the unique Icelandic sound. It marks AUÐN out as a band to watch and one who great things can be expected from in future.
Farvegir Fyrndar is out now via Season of Mist.
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