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I have to start by saying that I am, in a way, biased in reviewing this release. Angantyr brings elements of Norse pride, traditionalism, and strength to the table consistently, with every release being fresh and enthralling while balancing the infusion of traditional Scandinavian folk music with the raw, aggressive Norse black metal witnessed at its best (in my opinion) in the 90s. Bands like Angantyr, Taake, Kampfar, and others do a fantastic job of reviving that kindred spirit of stern Scandinavian pride through the music they create. While these bands began not far after Darkthrone, Enslaved, Thorns, and Burzum, they really seem to have hit their peak in the mid 2000s, and Angantyr is a fantastic example of just that.
The album starts strong, instantly putting the listener into a mindset of the stern traditionalist Norse attitude with a brilliantly executed cello piece. To say the cello work on this album is good is putting it far too mildly, the intro and outro to the album encapsulate the feeling of Nordic pride. The way this album progresses is very conventional, but in a truly impressive way. It's unrelenting in its ability to constantly express the Scandinavian history and folklore to the listener, and each song ends similarly. The writing isn't impressive or innovative, per se, but that in no way dulls or diminishes the solid power that Ynleborgaz's writing emanates. I noticed more than anything that the way this album would play out ended up frequently making me think of folklore being told around a hearth late at night. Despite its sound similarities to the cold sounds traditional black metal have, it often portrays an impressive aspect of near-nostalgic storytelling.
The instrumentation in general on this album is solid. Not a mistake can be heard, and the quality of the recording allows for a near wall-of-sound without pushing that boundary too far. It's thick, raw, and well mixed, but not muddied or dulled by its mix/master. This allows for the nimble guitar work to shine through, as well as giving the drums a feeling of unrelenting force, driving the album. Bass isn't heard so much in this instance, but I hardly believe that sullies this record in any way. The vocals definitely are a high point of the album. Ynleborgaz has perfected the archaic tortured raspy screams and growls that many musicians in the past have failed to replicate. It should be said that although the album has no flaws in terms of musicianship, it still feels organic and full of life. Robotic and lifeless are not even close to how this album would be described.
The song lengths for me are one of the better qualities of this album. The shortest track on Hævn clocks in at nearly eight minutes, making each song much closer in writing style to a classical piece, where it functions in terms of movements instead of short riffs. Each piece of the song builds upon the previous part before switching into another well written and evocative riff. One of the better qualities of black metal in general is its tendency to have longer songs. Because of length, projects within the style have much more time, and subsequently more room to experiment, build, and variate on the sound of each riff. If done properly, the length of the song doesn't become tired, boring, or dull, but rather pulls the listener further in. Every song on Hævn has that very quality to it, making the album in itself a unique listening experience. I found myself wanting to listen to the album again after it had finished playing, which is a rare and impressive feat.
While Angantyr has fantastic writing, pacing, style, and instrumentation, I believe Hævn is Ynleborgaz's masterpiece so far, and definitely sets the bar for bands in the shadow of such prolific projects as Taake and Angantyr. If this review sounds like praise, it's simply because it is. Its near impossible to find dull moments on this record. Not much more can be said, honestly. To put it simply, and reiterate the title, this is the pinnacle of second wave revivalism.
(I'm not reviewing this in any particular format, but I will say that vinyl pairs with Angantyr VERY WELL.)
Danish maniac Jakob Zagrobelny is clearly a very talented individual, and his band Angantyr is one of the best of the black masses to take Bathory's primal Viking core from the Blood, Fire, Death album and just run with it, or rather, sail with it... Hævn is the 3rd full-length, on which Zagrobelny, or Ynleborgaz, or whatever he is calling himself, has polished up the more repressed, buzzing atmosphere of Sejr into a more accessible whole. That is, more accessible if you enjoy hostile Viking black metal with no light at the end of the tunnel. There is a purity and longing in his compositions that I find refreshing, even if they are not stylistically innovative. Aside from the guest cello, all instrumentation is handled by Ynleborgaz alone, and one must admire this rather painstaking process, especially when the result is the very muster (or better) of many fully formed black metal bands.
Grim and endless. These two words define the focus of Hævn's 7 tracks, many of which run between 8-11 minutes in length. Indeed, this is over 70 minutes of music, so if your attention span sputters at reading beyond the first few paragraphs of this review, you're probably not cut out to lose yourself in its moribund, maritime pleasures. The songs do not offer a large variety of tempos, each is self-contained but will often batter away repetitiously for moments at a time without even the subtlest of changes. It's a formula that has failed a great many black metal records, but somehow it succeeds here.
"Et Varsel Om Død" provides the first 8 minutes of the album, commencing with the aforementioned cello player, then rattling into a hostile blaster hymn at around 1:40. The notes are chosen for their streaming sorrow and conjuration of epic death; while you may be hearing them often, they rarely grow tired, and Angantyr will subly shift back and forth and then to a slower pace for the climax. "Thulens Ord" feels as if the first song were interrupted so Jakob could take a breather from his black jeering, grab a drink, and then charge directly back into the fray. Breaks in the drumming create a sad, emotional onslaught, like a drowning man who dreams of a shore just out of reach. The opening rhythm of "Baghold" has a powerful, if understated majesty which is very reminiscent of Bathory, and the track only gets denser as it progresses. "Tågefolket" follows at 11 and a half minutes of spewed venom, and can grow trying on the patience, as it only lets up for a warlike vista and then a return from the cello near the end. Fortunately it's good enough to never fully engage your sleep mode.
The latter half of this burning longship is initiated by "Danermordet" and its howling sample, and more of the mid-paced, swaggering riffs that Quorthon could have crafted nearly two decades before. Again, no light at the end of the tunnel. No overarching melodies, just the melancholic thundering with the rhythm guitars carve into the forceful thrust of the drums. "Fødslen Og Byttet" follows suit, the last fraying ends of sanity dissolving at the nearly 10:00 mark, before the real epic of the album sets in. "Blod For Blod, Liv For Liv" is the 17+ minute crown of this work, ranging from the faster pace to the rolling marches of everything previous, and then to finally rest in an extensive cello/synthesier segment.
Despite its superior standards to any of the previous Angantyr records, Hævn is just black enough to get on your nerves, if you aren't prepared to commit yourself to its bloodstained, atavist depths. Even taken individually, the tracks are an 8+ minute investment of time. But the writing is solid and there is just enough variation in the rhythms to hang you at the edge of attention. This is not a band to break tradition, and there is nothing here that you haven't likely heard already, but overall the album is well-done, and if you can stick with it for its entirety, you are guaranteed to lose all hope.
Highlights: the long, sweet collapsing of lungs as all oxygen and life emigrate your tired body
Angantyr is part of this new generation of bands, along with other acts like Satanic Warmaster and Taake just to name a few, which take hold of the lo-fi and low-profile stand as the pioneering bands of the genre did but at the same time take melodic composition to beautifully crafted extremes, taking influences from classical music and strong folkloric undertones. This careful and well-thought sort of riffs and ambiance are what separate these bands from the ever increasing group of bands which seem to think that no riff should have more than four notes, and no song should have more than two riffs (not to mention the sound must be as shitty as possible) when it comes to nowadays black metal.
With the needed introduction out of the way, I'll say Angantyr is one of the best bands of it's generation, taking classical and folkloric influences to the extreme, as anyone will be able to appreciate by listening to the very first song of the album, which starts with a typical Scandinavian melody with cellos (performed by a local female cellist) and suddenly explodes into relentless black metal which, under the harsh but warm sound of the guitar, the unforgiving blastbeats and the growling vocals in the distance, maintains the same melody, evolving into several melodic stances of layers of guitars, making for an experience akin to that of being at a theatre listening to the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra.
The album is throughoutly covered with passion and a strong nationalistic spirit, inviting the listener to take part on the experience, a scenery of fire from time immemorial, forgotten battles, epic tragedies and breathtaking landscapes all translated into the language of black metal. The music is highly imaginative, not letting any riff drone for too long before changing into either a completely new melody or a modification of the previous riff, or even just adding something new to it, like a change in drum pace, the detail of keyboards or cello or even an extra guitar line, all the while maintaining the presence of typical black metal elements, these being the considerably low quality of sound (but not low enough to become a threat to the ears) and the eventual blastbeat storm.
The drums are hard to listen to at times, being buried under this thick (but in no way overwhelming) wall of sound, but as you listen you'll notice the delicacy of the cymbals and the tom rolls along with the precision and variety of the drummer's skills in mid-paced sections. The bass is a little let-down since it can barely be heard at all and it mostly follows the guitars, which leaves little to imagination. Apart from that there's not much else I would change from this album.
Vocals are average at best but complement the music in a very fitting manner. The growls are low in the mix but denote their presence without problem. From time to time clean vocals might be heard sporadically in some songs, which are actually very well done and placed, much like keyboards, which might pass undetected by a distracted listener.
Angantyr has so far released three full lengths, the three of them worthy of a high rank in the lines of best black metal albums ever (at least definitely three of the best black metal albums of the last 10-5 years). This release here is probably my favourite, and I feel it's my duty to not only review this album with a score it clearly deserves but to recommend this band and this album in particular to anyone who enjoys black metal but also seeks to listen to something other than minimalistic noise.
Originally written for the paper version of the Terror Cult Zine