Altari- Kröflueldar (Album Review)

April 20, 2023


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Over the past decade the Icelandic black metal scene has really exploded, with many of the key players contributing to multiple bands and projects.  While there have been commonalities between some of them, each group has spent time exploring different elements that has given them their own flavor, providing listeners with plenty to explore.  Altari is one of the newer additions to emerge from the darkness, though their sprawling, psychedelic take on the genre has been in the works for the better part of nine years.  The band’s debut Kröflueldar takes the darkness and dissonance of Icelandic black metal and warps it into a more mysterious and brooding sound that owes as much to post punk, psychedelic rock, and even some jazz.  It doesn’t completely throw away the script but adds significantly to it, and while the denseness makes for an album that may take a few times through to fully get a feel for, this is an exciting addition to the genre.

What is perhaps most interesting about Altari is how these additional musical influences have really transformed the black metal foundation.  Post punk, psychedelic rock, and everything in between have been a bit in vogue in recent years and quite a few groups have offered up hazier riffing or prominent bass grooves in between the harsher riffs.  But Kröflueldar isn’t just another album that’s throwing a few post punk riffs in here or there, as instead it feels like the spirit of these genres is seamlessly woven in.  The title track opens with softer melodies and prominent drumming that feels like it’s somewhere between the playfulness of jazz and trip hop, before transitioning over to those familiar abrasive and dissonant chords that are hallmarks of Icelandic black metal.  The rhythms drive the first few tracks, sometimes bringing the more fluid nature of bands like Laster or Emptiness to mind, and there’s a directness to the instrumentation that provides some immediate hooks while still offering plenty of additional details to discover upon repeat listens.  Kröflueldar’s second half is where things get a bit denser and less immediate, as the song lengths are a bit longer and the band spends a bit more time layering textures until they reach levels of darkened grandeur.  The post punk and psychedelic tones are still present here, but the riffs fall a little closer to what you’d expect from Icelandic black metal only with methodical climaxes rather than violent outbursts.  It took me a bit longer to get a feel for these tracks compared to the first half, but once I did they’ve been on a regular loop.  Closer “Grafar​þ​o​̈​gn” has this interplay between darkness and light that’s genuinely entrancing, and it feels like a perfect representation of Iceland’s stunning vistas through music. 

Not much is known about Altari’s roster other than that it was founded by guitarist/vocalist Ó.Þ.Guðjónsson, who I believe is the same Guðjónsson that fronts Sinmara.  Given the similar names of quite a few Icelandic metal musicians it’s hard to say, but the raspier screams do sound very much like that of Sinmara, particularly during some of the more aggressive moments.  But as with the instrumentation, there’s a lot more happening beneath the surface and the abrasive pitches only serve as one side of the band’s sound.  Even on the opener there is singing that hovers above the recording with a somber presence, and some of the later tracks adopt some almost whispered/distorted singing/talking that once again gives off an Emptiness vibe.  At points it feels like the usual Icelandic black metal screams run through a hallucinogenic filter, taking away some of the bite but none of the eeriness.  “Sýrulúður” features guest contributions from Gyða Margrét, and her hummed/softer singing makes it come through like a fever dream.  Again, there’s an air of familiarity to the performance throughout Kröflueldar, but everything has been twisted and transformed to feel just a bit different.

Unlike some of the other black metal that has woven in post punk and psychedelic rock, there aren’t specific riffs on Altari’s debut where I find myself thinking that Ó.Þ.Guðjónsson and company were listening to a ton of a specific band.  But there’s a similar atmosphere and tone to their material that channels the same darker, brooding nature of post punk and exploratory haze of psych rock, all while capturing the chill and bite of black metal.  Where other Icelandic bands have been violent and incendiary in their climaxes, Altari’s are more mysterious and subdued, but arguably just as interesting.  There remains room to further blur the lines between these genres and hopefully this is only the beginning, as this group has already achieved something special.  Kröflueldar is available from Svart Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg