Allir Vegir Til Glötunar is an invocation of destruction, perhaps for when the oceans finally engulf us. Likewise, Allir Vegir Til Glötunar translates to “All paths to oblivion,” according to both the internet and several blogs. I imagine that unless you specialize in pronouncing Icelandic words that you might also have some question about how to say their name, Naðra. A long and tall bearded Viking-friend of mine who is Icelandic says, “it’s Nath-ra, and Na like Narnia.”
Hmm…Narnia is in a state of permafrost, when the first of those books opens from “the bright city of War Drobe.” Hm. Doing some fact-checking, and it seems that actually, Scandinavia and Iceland, for instance, have relatively little permafrost (Williams and Smith 1989) – as reported by the snow and ice research center. Fascinating.
This being the internet age and not yet the ice age, a bit of internet digging reveals that the members of Naðra seem to prefer to use only their initials. To try and give credit where due, and to sum up (while capturing none of the intensity, terror, or ritual), Naðra consists of practitioners of a collaborative black metal rite called Úlfsmessa (“Wolf’s Mass”) made up of Reykjavik-based black metal or black metal-influenced projects (NYIÞ, Misþyrming, Grafir and Carpe Noctem among them), all of whom share and swap members. (To try and track the members, see this interview with Misþyrming.) This information is all secondhand, thanks to the 2014 Eistnaflug Festival Report via Steel for Brains and the Roadburn 2016 preview concerning this collective.
But on to the music.
A note: just to spoil the shiny newness, two of these tunes – Fjallið & Falið, have already been demo’d on their 2014 “Eitur” release.
From the opening round-house kick to the head (I love it when bands open a song/record with a wickedly fantastic guitar solo!) this five-song record is packed with sweet riffs that rise to the challenge of actually building off one another, making great structural sense compositionally and satisfying my inner demons. There is much to admire, especially as the progressions ascend in a teasing fashion, lifting the yoke/harness of hopelessness, only to place it back over the shoulders so that a listener continues to haul the heavy, impossible icy sledge through the eternal winter. I can’t resist the thrashy gallop of a circle-pit section (“Fjallið”) alternating with blast-beastly speedbag rage. Plus, “Sál” delivers the triple meter goodness that I find I want with all of my Icelandic black metal.
Naðra delivers choked and strangled vocals, most likely in Icelandic, with a little bit of atmospheric dude choral vocals artfully layered under the tremolo guitars and blast beats. Plus, this band has all of my love and offerings of dried animal bits for my favorite vocal noise of a staccato bark/belch/throat-clear as punctuation between sections and to end two of the songs – the one that sounds like “BLECH.”
On the record’s centerpiece, “Falið,” there is also the bonus of those male choral vocals (whether generated by humans of Naðra, electronically enhanced, or simply electronically produced, I can’t tell), which further enrich the tortured dude howlings. The doomy instrumental breakdown and mournful cast to the vocalising give such depth to the dread and sadness! Wave after wave of blast beating tremolo melodic attacks erode one’s very existence, while those planned breakdowns of relative calmness serve to create musical breathing space; yet the aural beatdown never lets up.
I think another standout moment of the record for me occurs in the second breakdown of “Falið,” (about 10 minutes in) when they restate the magisterial opening melodic theme at half-speed, slowly smashing things the until the scream of defeat. But again, what this band does so well, is build variations on their themes, without ever feeling repetitive.
“Sár” has to be the ultimate middle-finger to the conventional “metal” soundworld. Bassoon to start a song?! WHO DOES THAT?! Yet the bassoon is a genius moment – probably my favorite of the entire record – in that it could be the sound of a male voice weeping, a war horn, or someone’s twisted sense of humor. Again, the mighty male chorus returns to us on this track, evoking something of an epic battle scene (the Visigoths sacking Rome, the Mongol hordes, the Jacobite Rising(s) in Scotland, take your pick – but all on horseback.) I find terrible beauty in this song, which, somewhat perversely, ends up with said bassoon, along with string ensemble, a spoken voice, and birds chirping.
I love and am in awe of the evil ritualistic cast behind these songs and the more I read—this band and its Úlfsmessa collective. (If you can get there, they’re playing at Roadburn this year!) Then too, I appreciate that the structural and compositional shapes of the songs are so strong. Long live blasts that give way to breakdowns which erupt into thrash sections! AND those RIFFS! This Naðra record makes me want to growl, bite, and break things. That is, after I try to get over the bassoon.
– Caryn Havlik