Sinmara – Hvísl Stjarnanna (Ván Records)

Wednesday, 12th June 2019
Rating: 8.5/10

The shadowy figured adoring the cover of Hvísl Stjarnanna is the band’s namesake, Sinmara. It also well-encapsulates the experience to be found within the album proper: her and the blade Lævateinn cutting in giant melodic sweeps across all manner of the void. Firmly rooted in the dense and melodically rich Icelandic scene born from the heights of prime Deathspell Omega, Hvísl Stjarnanna is a tense journey across a shimmering, roiling obsidian sea toward unknown shores.

So while this is unquestionably modern black metal in practice, it eschews many of the more traditional tropes: basic blastbeats, tremolo-as-expression, or shrill production values are nowhere to be found. Instead the sound here is, like the songwriting itself: dense. Melodic guitar is piled on in layers over constantly shifting rhythmic patterns. No meanders into ritualistic expression, no byways-journeys into places considered depressive. The songs are typically spry but barring one notable exception (“Crimson Stars”, particularly in its back-half), immediacy is not a design goal the band has strove for.

This is not a disservice for album. “Mephitic Haze” teases a shallow embrace in a motif that each time gives way to something far more cavernous. Post-elements pepper throughout (opener “Apparitions”) but never as a focus, none of the seven-minute pieces on display taking five of those minutes to build to a thirty second payoff. Instead it’s one sonic element among many, employed throughout. “Úr Kaleik Martraða” is a mosaic of shifting colours, initially seeming as though it has no distinct form at all, gradually coalescing into the most moving experience the album offers.

Released back in March, there has now been ample time for Hvísl Stjarnanna to soak into the continuum of this year (for myself and anyone else who has stumbled upon it). While it has its shower moments, it distinctly rides in the grower category. The price of entry here is steep but as an experience (and a production) the album more than rewards in kind.

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