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Iceland is a harsh land, washed by the sea, covered by fog and burned by its many volcanoes. Inhabited since the ninth century by Scandinavian settlers, his story becomes a myth. First told by wandering scald, the island origin’s story is gradually transcribed in what would become the sagas, also known as Edda, shaped in the thirteenth century. These documents, real literacy monuments of medieval Europe, are a unique source to establish Icelandic chronology, but also to address the rich Scandinavian mythology, ubiquitous in these texts. However, romantic rereading performed by German authors in the nineteenth century transformed the popular perception of the sagas; they are now analyzed through the distorting prisms of Viking epic journey and Norse gods’ pantheon. Hoping to get closer to these difficult writings, many researchers are continuing, for fifty years, scientific studies that aim to extract the Edda from its wrong popular perception. This is for the same reason that the Icelandic-Germanic band Árstíðir Lífsins was born in 2008.
Artistic method of this band is quite special: the music surrounds some very specific sagas’ narrated extracts, sung in Old Icelandic. The first album, Jötunheima dolgferð (2010) outlined most aesthetic choices made by the group, who plays a pagan black metal full of ambient and folk elements. Lyrics are screamed, but are also clearly told in a language that Latin-friendly ears have no chance to understand. After two years of work, Árstíðir Lífsins ten members, scattered across Europe, launched Vápna lækjar eldr (2012).
From the outset, we note the group's determination to continue its journey on the historic trails The Land of Fire and Ice. But beyond a strict and meticulous scientific linguistic work, this album is in all respects a true work of art. Firstly, note the beautiful cover, decorated with a complex runic engraving, and then highlight the album format, a richly illustrated book, where disk is embedded in his lapel. However, these premises would be meaningless if the musical content was poor or boring. This is not the case.
The rich composition's sound jumps to the ears right from the start, with Friggjar faðmbyggvir er mér falinn ("My husband is gone"), which shows the amazing amount of work done upstream of the recording. Band relies on harmonic structures that coat the texts, but without neglecting the orchestration. It cleverly crosses rock and classical instruments, generating sometimes brutal moods, but often ethereal and contemplative ones. Pagan black metal fans are on familiar ground here, but Árstíðir Lífsins is truly using all possible resources of this style, alternating yelled passages with clear vocals, backing vocals and natural sounds. What emerges from this album are several feelings that evolve into the story: a deep melancholy, a sadness, particularly on Frá þögn Rauma grund hefr þessi ætt komið ("From the silence of the woodlands this family came ") and Mjök erum tregt tungu (" My tongue is lethargic "); anger from the clash of arms, particularly with Samkoma um sumar var sett á Þingeyri (" A meeting was to Þingeyri "); Hope on the closing song Fjörbann var mér alltaf við hlið er ófriðr kom upp ("Death was always by my side when problems arose in those days"). The band manages to bring the listener into its world through a complete artistic experience.
Rarely an album as long (more than seventy minutes) gave me such a strong impression, which increased over listenings. Yet the challenge was significant: sagas are belonging to European literacy heritage, but Vápna lækjar eldr manages to give life and music to these centuries’ old stories. I urge you to lend them an ear now and get carried away on the roads of Iceland’s origins.
Originally written for Métal Obscur