Andavald – Undir Skyggðarhaldi (Mystíkaos)Tuesday, 18th June 2019
Sunspots. A fascinating phenomenon. Temporary moments of cool within the workings of the sun that appear dimmer than the remainder of the sun’s surface. Cool, of course, in comparison only to the rest of our local divine light. For the rest of us it’s a temperature that would still result in complete obliteration.
The Icelandic black metal scene is similarly a hotbed of divine forces (or appears to be). Andavald is subsequently the associated sunspot, somewhat obscured by their hot-burning (in exposure, at least) countrymen but remaining capable of laying to waste those elsewhere in the world.
Undir Skyggðarhaldi, unlike many in Iceland, expresses no discernible influence from Deathspell Omega (or scenes elsewhere). Instead it is firmly entrenched in its own exploration of the depressive/atmospheric black metal framework. A framework that explores the beauty in places far removed from ordinary light, the uncomfortable places few dare to look.
Five songs, three of which are the core of the album – leaving it bookended by “Forspil” and “Eftirspil”, or where the curve rejoins the infinite plane. The remaining is a journey through the malevolent and despairing dark: “Afvegaleiðsla” and its maddening restraint as it builds and bobs listlessly; the often manic vocal frustration in “Hughlofnun” (though this is equally true throughout the album); or the sudden lurch forward in tempo for the anxiety-laden acid bath that is the title track. Melancholy in expression reigns supreme across Undir Skyggðarhaldi, at times for in achingly rendered hopelessness, at others in violent reactions to acts unbearable.
Constant throughout is an unsettled, even perverse sense of beauty. The production is murky but robust – everything has space to breathe. Unsurprisingly the vocals are cast in the mold of a specter struggling against disembodiment, a disembodiment carried in things distant (the shimmering walls of ever-shifting guitar) and the familiar (the rhythm section, particularly the oft-warm bass). It’s vivid, even inviting even though it’s absolutely suffocating.
It’s been a fierce year so far, particularly for the small island nation in the North Atlantic. Summer nears but with Undir Skyggðarhaldi, say goodbye to warmth. Of the light or otherwise.