April seems to be the month for Icelandic black metal, as not only did Altari’s debut see the light of day after a lengthy incubation period but the finished recording from Sól án varma is also out. Sól án varma isn’t a band in the traditional sense, but instead a project that was commissioned for the Roadburn Festival 2018 which brings together many of the major players in the Icelandic scene. After the performance the members began working on capturing this composition in recorded form in 2019, and now some four years later the resulting effort provides a sweeping and well thought out piece that reflects the dissonance and depth of Icelandic black metal. It may take a little bit to get going and doesn’t drastically push away from the foundations its members established in their separate bands, but if you enjoy the likes of Misþyrming or Svartidauði this album is a must listen.
D.G. (Misþyrming) and T.Í. (Misþyrming, Carpe Noctem) were the original duo responsible for putting together the Sól án varma, and they brought in additional talent from the likes of Svartidauði, Wormlust, Árstíðir Lífsins, and Drottinn which represents a wide span of what Icelandic black metal has to offer. But given the core duo, it’s not surprising that quite a bit of the material bears some resemblance to Misþyrming’s earlier days. This project likely would’ve been in the works around/after when D.G. scrapped what was originally the second Misþyrming album, so one has to wonder if some of the atmosphere and more exploratory passages present on Sól án varma were repurposed alongside the other musicians. The album is broken out into twelve individual tracks that come together to form a cohesive whole, and they allow for periods of much slower, atmospheric build-ups alongside the more raging and direct black metal you’d expect. Rather than launching right into the attack, Sól án varma spends much of its first half exploring these slower tempos and letting the atmosphere build in layers, in ways that come through as genuinely creepy and unsettling. “Afbrigði I” is drenched in darkness and decay, while “Afbrigði II” lets some haunting but slightly brighter melodies lead the way. These early tracks are lengthy and methodical, making for a slower burning listen compared to the other groups the members are a part of, but repeat times through reveal additional details and make these passages just as rewarding as the fire and chaos that is unleashed later on. “Afbrigði V” gives you the first taste of a more direct and abrupt track, where the tempo kicks up into a whirlwind and the material bears the harsher and violent riffing that you’d expect from Icelandic black metal. It’s a lot to take in at over an hour in length, but the peaks of tracks like “Afbrigði VII” hit the same majestic peaks as Misþyrming or Svartidauði. There isn’t anything that feels like a true reinvention or boundary pushing approach to songwriting, but instead it’s a natural collaboration between these musicians that offers a level of refinement to the atmospheric and dissonant black metal their country has become known for.
The instrumentals may take some time to build and let their creepier, tense tones break through, but the vocals provide some much harsher elements early on. “Afbrigði I” introduces some growls and screams early on, with just barely audible spoken word coming through in the background to add to the nightmarish feel of the track. This continues throughout the eight-minute span until close to the end where multiple voices come in to replicate what almost sounds like a psychotic episode, finishing the piece off strong. Given the number of musicians involved, it’s not surprising that the vocals are able to quite a bit of variety and explore a wide range of textures. Certain points go for the throat with more violent screams and growls, while others use more muted, whispered spoken word that are just as tense in their delivery. Depending on which bands you’ve spent time with, you’ll likely pick out when certain vocalists take over for a specific passage, but even if you’re not as familiar there’s still plenty here to take in.
Sól án varma captures both the sprawling, atmospheric passages of some of the Icelandic bands along with the chaotic and dissonant riffing that defined some of its earlier days, bringing these together into a lengthy yet cohesive whole that is genuinely breathtaking. It may take a little bit to reach some of these peaks, but the writing is refined and methodical and some of the smaller details really break through on repeat listens. Don’t expect something drastically different from the bands mentioned earlier but do expect an engaging and haunting experience that shows what the different Icelandic musicians can achieve when they come together. Sól án varma is available from Ván Records
-Review by Chris Dahlberg