We’ve already had a taste of what the burgeoning Icelandic black metal scene can bring us, with bands like Sólstafir, and more recently, the excellent Auðn release. While the aforementioned bands bring a sound that is more akin to ambient/atmospheric black metal, Almyrkvi promises a more dissonant, disturbing aural experience with their debut full length, Umbra.
The cues that the band takes from such influential French acts as Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega are clear, as the opening riff hits the listener hard, and immediately as well. The band then soon indulges the listener in a deluge of dissonance, with riff after riff that leaves one hanging on the edge, dreadfully awaiting the next onslaught. The guitar work of Jónsson is stellar. While a wall of sound creates a massive, crushing atmosphere, he cleverly intertwines this with furiously trem-picked riffs, alternated with haunting leads for that dark, cosmic ambient.
Like their other Icelandic peers, the focus on the atmosphere is a key element to Almyrkvi‘s music. There are lots of quieter, ambient moments that reinforce the cosmic theme that features so highly in their craft like on Fading Hearts of Umbral Nebulas. The intertwining of these moments and heavier ones are rather reminiscent of my first time listening to Fas – Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum, where the journey was disturbing and creepy as hell, yet completely entranced me to stay throughout its entirety. Apart from the instrumentation, there is even the usage of chants on songs like Stellar Wind of the Dying Star. Such is the strength of Almyrkvi‘s songwriting, at once sending shivers down one’s spine, and ensnaring one into Umbra.
Production is crisp, and the Umbra has a nice soundstage to it, making for an immersive listen. With in ear monitors, Almyrkvi‘s music has a more intense edge, as every beat hits the listener with maximum impact, synergised by the crushing riffs, though at the expense of some of that massive atmosphere that the band has created. This especially so on the more ambient moments like on Fading Hearts of Umbral Nebulas, where full-sized headphones are definitely recommended.
Umbra may be Almyrkvi‘s debut full length, but the band has left an indelible mark as a representative of the Icelandic black metal scene, proving themselves as more than capable in bringing their disturbing brand of black metal to the international table.