Heljarkviða by Árstíðir Lífsins

Release date: January 27, 2017
Label: Ván Records

The best black metal records provide a mystical experience, sometimes quite harrowing, sometimes too beautiful to put into words. Árstíðir Lífsins is a band from the closely-knit Icelandic scene that brings us another great album to remember the small nucleus of musicians that have made Iceland the new Norway as central to black metal in the scene these days. Their album, Heljarkviða takes many of black metal’s most profoundly moving elements and whips it up into a sound that is as cohesive and beautiful as the best black metal albums in the new fourth wave movement. Perhaps a little Arcturus, Borknagar, Dissection, Misþyrming mixed in, and you still don’t get a complete portrait of just how vast the soundscape Árstíðir Lífsins depict on Heljarkviða.

The name may detract some fans from outright promulgation of this band into the canon, but I will stop short of calling this album 2017’s most difficult record to usurp as black metal’s best. There hasn’t been a lot of releases thus far, and as obscure releases go, Ván Records does a sensational job making sure this album gets into some media outlets that will give the band due coverage, but I predict that it will be an uphill climb for this band to attain the critical acclaim that this album deserves, simply because fans still think of commercially-viable albums as genre-defining penultimate black metal albums.

Others who ape Behemoth’s well-trodden style have failed venturing down the same path. It is ode to Behemoth, while also fueling debate as to just how commercial viability does affect the sensationalism media outlets willingly give bands that already gain plenty of coverage. Page views. Page views. Page views, one can surmise as the reason.

None of that matters to journalists who willingly throw their page views to the lions for the opportunity to spotlight bands of lesser commodity, but ultimately create music worthy of praise given to bigger bands for the sake of histrionics. Árstíðir Lífsins’ Heljarkviða sounds like black metal’s avenger, the sort of grand lush instrumentation and musicianship worthy of praise reserved for genius.

Darkthrone may have pioneered black metal minimalism, and Agalloch may have been the band best-known to expand the black metal template past its primitive forms, but Árstíðir Lífsins puts the moon on the rafters with Heljarkviða, and that moon burns with a pronounced beauty black metal hasn’t seen since Marrow of the Spirit conjured such epic soundscapes as to render Agalloch’s name improbable to heresy.

Many fans will turn their heads and call this article another attempt at undignified sensationalism. But why not sensationalize an album that deserves the credibility easily handed to bands worshipped by many simply for sub-par black metal albums that have cemented legend incomprehensible to true fans. I am fan first, journalist second, and Árstíðir Lífsins’ Heljarkviða is the best black metal album I’ve heard from Iceland since Misþyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu, and the best black metal album I’ve heard for years before that.

The epic chants bring you back to eras forlorn in time, and the riffs morph with unceasing quality. Plenty more can be said about the string sections, the orchestral elements, the chants, the folk acoustics. Do yourself a favor. Ignore the hype most bands get by painting themselves as the biggest and baddest guitar-wielding zealots and buy an album musicians make simply for the love of the music. If we band together and support intelligent music by intelligent musicians, the trve spirit of black metal will never die.

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