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Jotunspor > Gleipnirs smeder > Reviews > Bertilak
Jotunspor - Gleipnirs smeder

The forgers of death-ambient black metal - 88%

Bertilak, January 25th, 2007

Establishing a new project that can exist on its own terms away from the overbearing shadow of a more famous progenitor can be a daunting undertaking and ‘Gleipnirs Smeder’ is an album that attempts a twofold birth. Jotunspor is the band established by King and Kvitrafn after each left the black metal behemoth that is Gorgoroth, and ‘Gleipnirs Smeder’ is also the debut release for Satanas Rex, the black metal sub-label created by Justin Mitchell, owner of the industrial powerhouse that is Cold Spring Records. No pressure then…

However, the album delivers on all fronts, representing a stylishly designed and packaged release from the new label, and a thematically focused and musically powerful work from the new band.

King and Kvitrafn dedicate the album to their Nordic heritage and the concept behind it is clearly rooted in the ancient Norse traditions. The title roughly translates into modern English as ‘The Forgers of Gleipnir’. In Norse mythology, Gleipnir was the magical ribbon-thin chain that holds tighter the stronger it is pulled. It is used to bind the wolf Fenrir, an animal so large and strong that he is prophesied to bring about the end of the gods. Gleipnir is destined to remain fast until Ragnarok, when its binding force will break and Fenrir will kill Odin before himself being slain by Odin’s son Vidar. Gleipnir was created by the dwarfs, who presumably are the “smeder” of the title.

These myths permeate the presentation and content of the album, from the shadowy picture of the wolf on the cover to the distant, mournful howling that features on a number of the songs (most notably the title track and ‘Solartjuven’), the anguished sound of Fenrir struggling to free himself. Another prevalent element that links tracks across the record is dissonant metal clashing and hammering noises, counterpointing the more conventional drumming and presumably indicating the forging of Gleipnir itself. The sense of ancient mythology is further intensified by the fact that many of the lyrics are sung in Old Norse, alongside more modern Norwegian.

All this intellectual and thematic underpinning would count for nothing if the music didn’t deliver but Jotunspor undoubtedly has the brawn to back up the brains.

‘Gleipnirs Smeder’ begins with the title track. The opening moments are relatively quiet, with just muted clashes of iron, before the riff kicks in at full speed. And, courtesy of the clear, attacking production, it is LOUD. Immediately there is plenty of distortion, with processed, multi-layered growling vocals and feedback on the guitars, but it is all tightly controlled. The riff itself is simple yet encompasses intricate flourishes and variations within its essential repetition. There is a false ending mid-way through before the track starts off again as fast as at the start, although in this section the vocals are clean and in an almost chanting style, sharply contrasting with the initial section. It all ends as abruptly as it began, the sudden rush of silence from the speakers almost sucking the air out of the room.

The fast black metal of ‘Gleipnirs Smeder’ might be anticipated but ‘Solartjuven’ illustrates that Jotunspor can be as heavy at a slower pace, as the track is a solemn march, driven along by a satisfyingly full bass sound until a distorted thunderstorm begins to cut across its latter stages and eventually drowns it out altogether. The speed picks up again for ‘Freke Han Renn…’, with exceptionally fast drumming and extremely distorted vocals, which contrast well with a beautifully chiming guitar tone on the main riff.

Up until this point the album has maintained a dazzling level of quality but there is then perhaps a slight loss of impetus, as both ‘Sol Mun Svartne’ and ‘Ginnungagalder’ are fast and rather indistinguishable, although the latter track does resolve itself into a pleasingly hypnotic guitar riff before fading out. ‘Sol Mun Svartne’ again partly uses clean vocals but the contrast is not quite as effective as on the opening song.

The album closes with ‘Ildkrig’, which starts with an almost tribal drumbeat but fortunately then stirs into a more militaristic march. Both the bass and guitar are quite low in the mix, providing more of a rumbling buzz than anything distinct, thereby foregrounding the urgent drums and harsh vocals.

One of the great strengths of ‘Gleipnirs Smeder’ is its willingness to push the boundaries of what the listener may be expecting. As well as providing classically primitive black metal as required, Jotunspor also display an industrial streak more akin to a Cold Spring act. As noted, heavy processing features throughout, not only of vocals but also of the effects, such as the thunderstorm that closes ‘Solartjuven’, giving it a truly nightmarish and foreboding quality. Most notable in this context is the second track - ‘Svartalvheims Djup’ - over 7 minutes of minimalist eerie echoes, deep throbbing sounds and dank dripping effects, with snatches of distorted vocals surging in and out. Pastoral ambient passages in the vein of Burzum or Vinterriket are familiar elements in many black metal records, especially those from pagan acts. However, with this track, Jotunspor provide a far more dark and industrial variety of ambient than the keyboards and synths of most bands, reminiscent of the Swedish masters of the genre such as MZ412 or even the visceral ‘death ambient’ style of Megaptera. The effect is not conducive to reflection or melancholy but rather a distinct sense of unease and anxiety. Placing such a radical track second on the album, rather than as an afterthought to pad it out at the end, clearly indicates Jotunspor’s intent to challenge the listener and the fact that it succeeds so well, especially after the all-out black metal assault of the opener, is testament to their skill in this tricky area of atmospheric music. Indeed, their commitment to industrial sounds is reinforced at the close of the album, as the final minutes of ‘Ildkrig’ are also death ambient noises, gradually fading away.

Perhaps less entirely convincing is the mix of clean vocals alongside the more conventional guttural and distorted growls, like shafts of light amidst the surrounding gloom. Although the contrast is fitfully effective and in places, as on the title track, provides an almost choral quality, they do occasionally sound as if they have been mixed in from another album entirely. ‘Gleipnirs Smeder’ sticks in the mind as an evocation of the mythologically inhuman, and clean vocals don’t quite fit this sense of the otherworldly.

Overall, though, any flaws in the album are minor and do not detract from what is a powerful work of atmospheric black metal, with a strong sense of preserving and enriching Nordic heritage. The production, by Kvitrafn, is clear and full, balancing the multiple layers of music and effects with great assurance. Jotunspor is declared to be a studio-only band and while that may deprive the world of witnessing their brand of industrial ambient/black metal in the raw, it will hopefully focus their efforts on producing more albums as rich in ideas and accomplished in execution as this one.