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The contemporary Icelandic black metal scene is more or less a mosaic of different aspects of what is known as the ’00s orthodox sound per se, as it was showcased by Deathspell Omega in their “Fas” album, namely disharmonic, dissonant if you prefer, black metal with lots of death metal thrown in, as well as Ved Buens Ende influences. It is a sound that has almost stigmatised the whole scene, even though each band is able to mark its own aspect with a personal character. The fact is, however, that this was not always the case with this island of Scandinavia. During the ’90s, Icelandic black metal was more or less identified with Sólstafir, namely a melodic, pagan black metal style, obviously influenced by the Norwegians, yet with an even more primal edge. After that, and apart from Sólstafir (which took on a completely new musical direction), there was pretty much a sense of vacuum coming from that northern niche.
Yet this apparent non-existence of other Icelandic BM bands was crucial to my forming the imaginative axiom that all (future) bands from there would definitely play a sort of melodic Enslaved/Kampfar thing. Obviously, bands like Wormlust, Misþyrming, and Svartidauði proved me wrong, and forcefully managed to dispel this notion of mine, shifting the focus from pagan to orthodox darkness. The thing is, the mental connection of Iceland with melodic pagan BM never entirely dissipated, and Naðra, with their “Eitur” demo (2014) and especially with this year’s “Allir vegir til glötunar,” which is a natural expansion of the first release, managed to remind me of this more naive conviction of mine. The band consists of five members, all of which participate in other bands of the scene, Misþyrming being the one most densely frequented (4 out of 5 members).
First things first: just like the demo, Naðra’s debut sports Skaðvaldur’s amazing hand-made artwork, totally in the spirit of ’90s black metal, yet graced with a white background, foreshadowing the choice of Frost over Darkness. Two out of the five album tracks come straight from the “Eitur” demo, obviously with much better sound this time, and the other three songs build upon the same basic motifs: flowing guitar riffs, with almost punky outbursts in certain moments (take for instance the opening of “Fjallið”), deeply rooted in the romantic, nature-worshipping soundscapes of times past. Here can be found branches of what Taake and Kampfar had once sown. A string motion that oscillates between atmosphere and flexibility, never letting dreaming fall into monotonous sloth, writhing with melody throughout. There are moments that the rhythm section takes on a hypnotic path, almost diverging into the land of ritual, yet always retaining this northern grace that is a major characteristic of the Scandinavian scene per se. What was amiss from the latest wave bands from Iceland was ice itself, choosing darkness over it. Naðra, as I aforementioned concerning the cover art, return to this icy vastness, so iconic of Iceland itself, creating pure frosty majesty of great quality, something that is not frequently chanced upon nowadays.
Passionate, utterly frigid, melodic and imbued with the pagan spirit of a decade gone by, “ Allir vegir til glötunar” is an ode to the early Icelandic black metal scene, boasting some of the best riffing that can be traced back to contemporary Iceland (and not only). An early yet strong contestant for this year’s end list.