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Crushed into heaven - 90%

sadiowitches, July 7th, 2019

Within the Icelandic black metal scene, Andavald immediately distinguish themselves through their slower pacing (usually in the form of sombre triple-time) and dense, funereal atmosphere — a contrast to the swagger of Misthyrming, the grim determination found in Sinmara, or the wildly unhinged nature of Skaphe and Wormlust. On their debut LP, Undir skyggðarhaldi, Andavald appear almost threatening in their vulnerability; songs are wrapped with thorns and snarls, a tangled thicket partially obscuring the melodies beneath.

Undir skyggðarhaldi seems to lash at no one in particular, but it creates a rich spectacle out of its torment, constantly agonized yet never really bleak — it has a certain relish, a corrupted joie de vivre that keeps its shrivelled heart beating. And the vocals — zealously performed and astonishingly inhuman at times, the most immediate element of the spectacle; tortured gasps, gurgles, and crazed laughter that feel genuinely disconcerting. Chords, pained and drawn out, mix ambiguity into minor key progressions; a section of “Afvegaleiðsla” features a sort of mocking beauty as a quasi-triumphant major chord is layered behind the foreground sequences. As the track closes out, a sense of suffocation is present in the clash between the two different guitar lines; the production adds just a touch of harshness to sharpen the feedback, akin to tiny glistening shards.

I propose that Undir skyggðarhaldi attempts to shield itself using its very displays of pain, perhaps displaying a sort of pride in being able to suffer that much. It plumbs the depths of despondence and madness on “Hugklofnun”, cries urgently on the title track before fading out hopelessly. Andavald weaponize vulnerability and make it frightening; it seems utterly uninviting, unlikely to draw anyone willing to help or protect. Yet it’s impossible to look away.

More subtle is the etherealness of Undir skyggðarhaldi, distorted by a terrifying visage. This trait is exemplified in “Afvegaleiðsla”, which tries to hide its delicateness — certain riffs ringing towards the heavens, a (relatively) gentle guitar lead getting caught up in the haze. And the haze itself, even, can tower over impressively, elevating itself from the deeper, darker recesses. The drumming on “Afvegaleiðsla” is also surprisingly elegant, maintaining a certain sway, recalling dances from better times. The title track, meanwhile, pits desperate shrieks against chords which can only be described as sighing, almost sweet.

For all its miseries, Undir skyggðarhaldi is a curiously fulfilling experience; I think the focus ends up not on its grievances so much as on its ability to twist horrifying things into crushing gorgeousness. Many aspects of the music, taken individually, feel pretty fucked up (play the laughs on “Hugklofnun” a couple of times and you’ll see what I mean); the no-holds-barred vocal performance could have lent itself very easily to melodrama or contrivance, but avoids that pitfall by not feeling human altogether (it’s harder to attribute melodrama to the inner lives of monsters). And despite a journey spent in excruciation, a sense of victoriousness crawls its way out as the cold, dreary epilogue plays on.

Originally posted on sputnikmusic.com.