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Challenging, creative, wildly inventive. - 88%

ConorFynes, December 24th, 2015

Söngvar elds og óreiðu was the first album I heard from a year that's proven to be one of the most transformative in my life. It was nearly a year ago-- a few days were still left in 2014-- and I was once again looking for new albums to dive into. Between a string of masterpieces from bands like Morbus Chron and Thantifaxath, my rabid inner listener was well tended to, but there's always a part of me looking for the next best thing; the newest sound. I'm not alone in the feeling of having been drawn immediately by Misþyrming's superbly fitting choice of artwork. Accompanied by such an immense and evocative cover, I don't think there is any way Söngvar elds og óreiðu would have been able to fall short of shock and awe without possibly being cited for false advertising. Writing a year later, with Misþyrming's debut still more than holding its own throughout the best year for black metal we've seen this decade, I might say the album lived up to its monumental promise. Just maybe.

Most of the reviews I've read for Söngvar elds og óreiðu widely accomplish two things. Firstly, they note a decided influence from Deathspell Omega, a comparison I would certainly agree with, so long as it wasn't used solely to describe what Misþyrming are doing here. Secondly, people like to mention that the band are Icelandic. I do suppose it's worthy to take note of; Icelandic bands are remarkably consistent in quality, and the sheer frigid isolation of the place plays well into the typical black metal aesthetic. For my own contribution into the critical dialogue, I might simply label Misþyrming as an 'inventive' black metal band. This is a far rarer class of musical act than the DSO disciples these days, when it seems every current band not playing gazey atmospheric stuff would like to try their hand at post-modern dissonance. It takes good musicians to be technical and dissonant. It takes a real creative force however to take those tricks and make them feel new again.

2015 has been full of black metal in the stylistic neighbourhood of Söngvar elds og óreiðu, but I can only think of a few that sounded sincerely experimental, even attempting to do something different from the avant-garde frontrunners. Count this album amongst the elect. I can honestly say that Söngvar elds og óreiðu has me on my toes throughout listening to it. Their fundamental style of raw but calculated black metal isn't exactly fresh to them, but they don't use their genre as a crutch.

Not knowing quite where Misþyrming will head next on the album, it is easy to get lost inside Söngvar elds og óreiðu whenever I've put it on. Check the album's first song, "Söngur heiftar", as an example, wherein enveloping dark ambient gives way to crippling black metal gives way to the kind of unintuitive handling of melody I would probably associate with Peste Noire more than anything. Misþyrming are a more versatile act than some of their biggest fans give them credit for. Better still; they excel at each of the avenues they venture down, melding them together for a result that sounds consistent. It's easy to mistake the avant-garde for senseless eclecticism; Misþyrming circumvent this common pitfall by staying consistent in their tone and atmosphere throughout the album.

The most exciting parts of Söngvar elds og óreiðu are where Misþyrming switch up the pace for something new, but the large part of the album is fuelled by the band's hectic onslaught. Although nowhere near as technical and precise, it's easy to see where the Deathspell Omega comparisons are coming from. Misþyrming give little space for the listener to breathe when they're pummelling away at full momentum. And much like DSO, the latent melodies in the guitarwork don't become apparent (if ever) until a few listens in, once the overwhelming dust has settled and the music is more familiar. Not for this aspect necessarily, but the surprisingly raw manner in which Misþyrming approaches it, is this a challenging listen. Even by current standards, I think Söngvar elds og óreiðu is the sort of album that demands a closer ear than you might first give it credit for.

For such a solid album, I'm surprised there are few real highlights to mention. The spontaneous energy in the riffs on "Söngur uppljómunar" are enough to peg that song as a favourite in my books, and the 'no time wasted' mentality of the opener leaves a pretty big impression of its own. Keeping the band's surprisingly prominent focus on dark ambient in mind, Söngvar elds og óreiðu is a rare black metal album that really demands to be heard from start to finish. Each time I hear it, it always finishes sooner than I'd like. At 43 minutes in length, I wouldn't say this is an objective criticism so much as a confession I've been left wanting even more from these guys.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical.