It seems only recently that Iceland has emerged as an epicenter to a constantly varying and exciting take on music—especially black metal. As I’ve continued to test the waters of the Scandinavian island’s music scene, I’ve only become more impressed with the barrage of sounds rising out of what was once musical obscurity—at least in my mind. And thanks to their extremely impressive debut full-length album titled Söngvar elds og óreiðu, we can go right ahead and file Misþyrming away as yet another impressive Icelandic black metal outfit.
Right off the bat, “Söngur heiftar” provides a thunderous tempo filled with blast beats and a deep, echoing growl that, for some reason, just seems darker than most. As the track gallops on, we’re introduced to symphonic undertones that create a real haunting quality, which eventually slides effortlessly into “…af þjáningu og þrá” and “Endalokasálmar.” (Thank god I don’t need to actually pronounce these friggin’ things!)
There are moments on these early tracks that appear to be cut from the same Icelandic black metal stone as, say, Sólstafir’s Í Blóði og Anda. To this effect, we are reminded of Misþyrming’s home country through the use of an infrequently-visited, yet still-recognizable, viking metal cadence. All this, coupled with extreme experimentation in the leads and a raw production, take us on a dark, emotional trip. There’s no mistaking the pain layered within these words and tones, as its communication is undeniable.
I think all would agree that “frostbitten,” “cold,” and “dark” are three of the most frequently used terms when describing black metal as a genre. And in fact, those same words can be associated here, but the intensity of these terms is on an entirely new level here. Misþyrming doesn’t give us mere frost and snow; this is a piercing wind of sleet and hail sweeping across a open plain, cutting through your skin. This is cold to the point of white hot pain. From the first instrumental, “Frostauðn,” all the way through “Friðþæging blýþungra hjartna,” the band really drives this home, forcing you to suffer as if you were fully exposed to the extreme conditions of an Icelandic landscape. I’ve experienced a feeling of cold in black metal, but rarely has an album thrown me in an environment that feels cold enough to burn your skin. It’s incredible.
This atmosphere is unfortunately lost a bit on “Söngur uppljómunar,” which opens with a lead that is just a bit too technically experimental. I appreciate what Misþyrming are attempting to do with this track, but unfortunately it’s a step away from the emotional charge the album had built to this point. As an individual track it’s a bit awkward, but it also lacks cohesiveness with the rest of the album. All is forgiven, however, as we’re brought right back to that previously constructed landscape with “Ég byggði dyr í eyðimörkinni,” before then closing with a somber instrumental in “Stjörnuþoka”—leaving us feeling as if we’ve found peace after enduring an exposure to an unprecedented level of emotional darkness.
With Söngvar elds og óreiðu, Misþyrming have taken black metal to yet another level and given us yet another reason to pay close attention to the Icelandic metal scene. It’s an emotionally penetrating, atmospheric expedition through darkness, cold, and pain—clearly influenced by the harsh landscapes of home. As such, this is an album to be listened to in isolation, with a clear mind, as only then will this album truly take form. It’s a journey worth taking.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”