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Classically-inspired, genre-transcending vision - 98%

Jophelerx, June 19th, 2017

Angantyr's Haevn was one of the first black metal albums I took a liking to, and was largely responsible for my continued enjoyment of and interest in the genre to this day. This was back in 2010, and I hadn't even really been exposed to much of the genre aside from a few of the more revered names and stalwarts like Emperor, Cradle of Filth, Summoning, Blut Aus Nord, and Dissection. Of those, I had really only gotten into some Summoning and the first Emperor album at the time when I stumbled onto Angantyr. Specifically, I was searching for metal bands with strings, especially cello, as that was and remains to be one of my favorite instruments to hear in any genre, and I was experiencing a scarcity of it in my metal repertoire at the time. From the opening notes of the album, I was hooked. Starting a black metal album with a cello solo is certainly a ballsy move, and that propitious intro delivered beautifully, surpassing even my initial expectations. Seven years later, I still haven't heard any other black metal that's really even in the same ballpark as Haevn. Only if you use a vague umbrella term like "depressive black metal" can you really compare it closely to anything other than the rest of Angantyr's discography, and even then there are strong, immediately noticeable differences in songwriting and atmosphere such that it would be impossible to confuse any of them for Haevn with even a 10 second sample. This Danish one-man project's magnum opus stands in a realm all its own.

Angantyr is the name used by Jakob Zagrobelny, and just to clarify, he did briefly have another black metal project, Tagefolket (also the name of one of the songs on Haevn), which is as much in the vein of this album as the rest of his discography as Angantyr; I'm including it as an afterthought to my point about Haevn's uniqueness because Tagefolket's discography consists solely of a 2-song demo which may as well have been released under the Angantyr name as far as the musical style or band member is concerned. Anyway, moving onto the details; what is it that makes this album stand out from Zagrobelny's other work, and from the rest of black metal in general? Well, even when the cello isn't in use (and it's used pretty sparsely over the 70 minute running time), the general stylistic influence of classical music, at least in structure, atmosphere, and the sheer level of ambition present in the songwriting is clear, whether conscious or unconscious on the part of Zagrobelny. Now, I'm not familiar enough with specific composers to go into detail in that regard, and I have no idea as to whether the works of one or more specific composer were an inspiration here, but the similarities are completely unambiguous to anyone who has even a passing knowledge of classical music.

A likely reason this style hasn't been imitated with any real success is the level of repetition. The songs range from 8 minutes all the way on up to the 17-minute album closer, and the average number of riffs hovers around two per song. In the vast majority of cases, averaging one riff every 4-5 minutes is dull, usually very dull, as it takes exceptional musical ideas to justify that amount of repetition. Very few songwriters are able to create ideas on that level. Black Sabbath's self-titled track is one excellent example of using a sufficiently amazing idea; Haevn - all 8 songs on the album, specifically - is another. Each new riff is fresh, intelligent, crushing, and especially memorable, never approaching anything that could be called generic or derivative to any extent. Without exception, they create such a strong sense of relentless melancholy and despair that it's still impossible for me to focus on anything else while listening to it, despite the fact that it's well over an hour long and I've now listened to it somewhere in the ballpark of 35-40 times. This atmosphere never falters even for a moment, and each idea and melody flows perfectly into the next, on a level that I still haven't heard paralleled anywhere else in black metal.

Zagrobelny's vocals are something that shouldn't be swept aside, either; while the skill required to create them is much lower than that required to write such an album, nonetheless they're very strong, staying in a midrange sort of howl that falls below the pitch of most black metal and above that of most death metal. Otherwise, his delivery is pretty standard fare, but at the same time his voice is pretty recognizable. That may just be a testament to the number of times I've listened to the album, but certainly no corners are cut in the vocal department. The production, too, hits a sweet spot, being less raw then Angantyr's first two albums, but not so polished as to remove any of the power or character of the music. I won't go into further detail on every song, but I do want to hone in on the album closer, "Blod for Blod, Liv for Liv," which is my favorite song on the album, my favorite song in black metal, and in my top 20 songs in all of music.

I still get chills every time I listen to this 17-minute epic masterpiece. As great as all the other riffs on the album are, that main riff on "Blod for Blod, Liv for Liv" is on another level entirely. It evokes a strong feeling of finality, which in the context of the album makes it even more appropriate, as though each song descends a bit further into the darkness until finally death itself is all that's left. The title, whose Danish-to-English translation is as stupidly simple as you might intuit from the name "Blod for Blod, Liv for Liv," definitely suggests a sufficiently fitting lyrical subject. With every repetition of one of the songs two main riffs, I can imagine more and more people dying in some apocalyptically bloody battle, and at some point perhaps reaching a level of such despair that total self-annihilation becomes the only sane response. This culminates in the 6-minute cello solo which closes out the song and the album. The progression gives me the idea that the relentless agony of the rest of the album has finally subsided, and now all that's left is apathy, a total mental and emotional defeat characterized by the utter desensitization to all pain, and all that's left is a detatched, final peace, that of waiting for death.

Ultimately, everyone who likes black metal to any extent needs to listen to this album. This is an essential of the genre, and resonates so strongly with me that I'd herald it as an essential of extreme metal and depressing music in general. Like Funeral's Tragedies, for which you can also read my review, Angantyr's Haevn is an expression of hopelessness and sorrow so pure, so unadulterated, and so authentic that it transcends genres entirely, becoming a direct conduit for pain, mourning, and despair and providing an analagous catharsis of equal proportion to any listener who feeds those feelings into it. Zagrobelny's first two albums as Angantyr are much more traditional second wave black metal, while the following two are more watered-down and saccharine, but Haevn is a glimmer of genius and will remain as such for decades to come.

The Pinnacle of Second Wave Revivalism - 95%

Kritiske, November 14th, 2014

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.)

Dreams of a shore just out of reach - 80%

autothrall, November 23rd, 2009

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 - Hævn - 94%

Avestriel, April 15th, 2009

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