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Quite good, but uneven - 85%

Dragoran, February 6th, 2008

I stumbled upon this release largely by accident. Browsing the internet for various things kvlt, as oft I am wont to do, I came across a metal blog that had this album posted as one of their recent uploads. On a whim, I downloaded the thing, and after about one or two listens, decided that I had to purchase it.

As this was the first split I ever listened to, I found the lack of integration between the two halves of the split to be initially quite jarring. I had expected more of an integrated album between the two artists; instead, what I got resembled more two EPs stuck onto a single disc. Not to suggest that this is bad, merely that Angantyr and Nasheim have very different musical styles, and it certainly shows here.

Angantyr occupies the first half of the split with three tracks, two original and one live (originally from their debut album, Kampen Forstaetter). Theirs--or perhaps more aptly, his, since the act is comprised of one man--is a raw and repetitive style of black music, resembling to some degree the work of Darkthrone, albeit with a less ethereal and more aggressive sound. The material on this half is something of a mixed bag. The first piece, "Arngrims Haevn" is excellent, beginning with a fury of blastbeats and some truly menacing guitarwork. The guitars carry the workload in the beginning, alternating between several riffs while the drums maintain their constant assault. About halfway through, the onslaught suddenly stops and the drums shift to a much more methodical, bass-heavy pace, and the guitars moving towards more rhythmic and less melodic riffing. The effect is one of confident strutting, rather than the enraged attack of the first part. The last part of the song moves back to the original style, which continues until a brief return to the B part at the very end.

Unfortunately, I'm not entirely sure what to make of the second track, "Edsvoren". It often strikes me as overly repetitious, especially in the beginning, where the main "riff" consists of a several bar, single note guitar rhythm repeated on differing notes over a fairly basic interval progression. Things get more interesting when other riffs are introduced towards the middle, though the song comes back to the original, monotonous pattern. Despite all this, though, sometimes the track clicks with me and I find myself enjoying it more than I otherwise would. Fundamentally, I think the track works better as a background piece, rather than something one should sit down and listen to explicitly.

The live track is quite good, radiating an intensity and fury that makes for a nice change from the occasionally stultifying atmosphere of the prior song. In this, it resembles more the first track. The riffing in this song is often quite basic, but varied enough to remain interesting. As with the first track, the percussion usually maintains a steady blasting, breaking it only with the occasional flourish to signal a change in the guitar riff. However, there are also one of two moments where the drums actually overshadow the guitars in importance, making for an interesting variance in the overall texture. For a live track, the recording quality is quite good and the (presumably session) musicians play quite tightly.

After the raw intensity of the first three tracks, the last thing you'd expect would be a soft opening with some acoustic, yet that's what you get with the start of the Nasheim track, "Sovande Mjod Vill Jag Toma". Yes, the Nasheim track, though it occupies twenty-five minutes of the fifty-two minute album. As I mentioned, it starts off with a calm, reflective background out of which a simple, melancholy melody gradually evolves. And then, the vocalist utters a gutteral scream and with it crashes down a wall of sound, shattering the early placidity. Yet under the buzzing and blastbeats, one can still, faintly, make out the notes of the original tune. It is this kind of attention to detail that really makes the piece; though the structure of the piece evolves throughout, the work often revisits earlier themes.

The work is quite melodic, featuring extended, somber riffs that persist in the memory for quite some time. It generally repeats each motif several times, allowing the effect to sink in, but switching before it grows tiresome. The effect is less reminiscent of Burzum than one would think; Nasheim plays around with the riff structure more than Varg generally does, and orchestrates the piece in a fashion more often found in classical than metal (notice my hesitance to call this a song). The piece really does not focus on the riffs much, and in terms of structure, seems fairly far removed from many of the more traditional elements of black metal, although not nearly so much as, say, Summoning. There are about five or six minutes of actual vocals on the track, not including some melodic, moan-like chanting that occurs towards the end. Both types of vocals are powerful and effective; apparently, the lyrics are taken from one of Sweden's more prominent poets, though I have no idea what they mean.

The song is really too long and varied to describe in great detail, but there are a number of notable sections, including the beginning mentioned earlier, and the section with the chanting vocals. After the chanting ends, the music gradually forms itself into a crescendo of increasing intensity, reaching several intermediate peaks before continuing to press higher; it's one of the best examples of this sort of thing I've heard outside of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Finally, though, it ends, and the music becomes quiter, almost defeated. Soon, though, an impassioned guitar solo rises up over this background, and continues until almost the end, when it is gradually replaced with more chanting, which then fades out with the song. The ultimate effect is one of defiant sorrow, of a voice crying out against the oppressive forces of the world. This is a beautiful piece, an achievement made all the more impressive by the complete lack of keyboards.

I would definitely recommend this album, if primarily for the Nasheim side. While Angantyr's material is good, it is also uneven; "Edsvoren" in particular could desperately use some editing. On the other hand, "Sovande Mjod. . ." is a quite possibly a classic, and one of the best examples I've heard of how to keep a lengthy song from collapsing under its own weight while maintaining itself as a unified whole. Though it apparently took three years to write, the wait was, as Erik Grahn (Nasheim's frontman) maintains, entirely worth it.