Myrkurs er þörf by DynfariRelease date: September 18, 2020
Dynfari hail from Iceland and began as a duo in 2010. A decade later, having metamorphosed into a quartet, they are releasing Myrkurs er þörf (trans: Darkness is Needed), their fifth full-length album. The four-piece play an atmospheric, melancholic black metal with a strong inflection of post-rock. A blackened post-metal by any other name, really. The band have been playing in this space for much of their career, so while the reaction of many might be – should you not already know Dynfari – to reject them and their sound as overdone at this point, that would be a mistake. That is a foolish reaction for any band, but the Icelandic troup are one of the best in the game, with Vegferð Tímans (2015) being a particular highlight in their discography.
As they have progressed the edges have softened and, by and large, the quartet have leaned into the atmospheric aspect of their sound far more. 2017’s The Four Doors of the Mind was a pointed example of that – an album I felt perhaps eschewed their darker past a little too much. I was therefore very interested – but not without a bit of trepidation – to listen to their new opus.
The good news is that the band have rekindled their fire, with Myrkurs er þörf being their heaviest output in years, despite still being deeply atmospheric and having some gorgeous moments peppered throughout its running time. The production also harks back to earlier times in the band’s history, with a rawer approach to the recording process. Normally I would welcome such a move, as I always prefer an organic feel to an album of this kind, but the bad news is, that it really doesn’t do Dynfari any favours on this album and isn’t done all that well. The atmospheric, post-rock swells and droning doomgaze passages can sometimes feel indistinct, begging for cleaner production and a forensic mix to lift these segues – their crescendos and diminuendos – above the murky waters.
The heavier, metallic episodes that make up a greater part of the material on their fifth LP, in stark contrast to the recent album (and which must surely be the impetus for this “more DIY” approach), are similarly hampered by this stylistic choice in the studio. The bass is anonymous for large swathes of this record, before surfacing unexpectedly and proving there’s actually quite a lot of fantastic work being done down there in the rhythm section’s depths. The drums similarly lack incision – this not only coming from the production but also hampered by quite underwhelming songwriting in this area.
Jóhann Örn’s vocals have always been a make or break for some listeners, but I have always enjoyed their semi-spoken, semi-shouted style. But on Myrkurs er þörf his vocals ride the mix, sitting on top of the rest of the music, rather than being part of the whole. Doubling down on this is the mastering job, which by and large is accomplished with what has been given from the mixing work, but it has a strange effect on the vocals; some compression somewhere meaning the vocals (often Jóhann’s clean wails) jump out even more. I dearly hope this is the digital files we have been provided for this review [they’re mp3s, not wav files], as this can be distracting, and it took a few listens to get used to this, before I could park it to one side, and get on with reviewing the record.
What makes the above all the more distressing is that some of the material on Myrkurs er þörf is Dynfari’s best. Take ‘Ég tortímdi sjálfum mér’, a track that has some mesmerising guitar work on it, impassioned vocals, and some of the best drumming on the whole LP. It’s absolutely fabulous – a real highlight in Dynfari’s whole catalogue. Moving, dark, atmospheric, technical; it is one of their best tracks that serves as a complete 360° description of what the band are about. The album in general gets stronger as it progresses, with the epic ten minute plus track ‘Peripheral Dreams’ following on being an impressive track, letting the quartet flex their songwriting muscles. It’s a wonderfully constructed track, with each change in style seemingly effortless and natural, not cut and pasted, like some contemporary bands in Dynfari’s wheelhouse often sound like. I do wish Jóhann sometimes paired back his vocal arrangement on the band’s lengthier songs, though. During its midpoint there is this gorgeous ambient the progressively more complex post-rock section that would perhaps be best sans vocals, yet with have more semi-sung spoken word over the top. Sometimes less is more, and often Dynfari do strike that balance remarkably well, but at times across their fifth LP, they seem to want to pack in more and more content.
If you are a fan of Dynfari’s fellow countrymen Auðn or bands such as Agalloch, then you will surely have discovered the band already, but, if you have not, I do urge you to check the quartet out, as you will find much to love, not only in their back catalogue, but also on this, their newest output. A solemn album steeped in sorrow and introspection, Myrkurs er þörf is a fantastic record in Dynfari’s discography that I have no doubt will sound mind-blowing and deeply moving live. But its enjoyment is hampered by this ‘rawer’ recording method in the studio. It’s a subtle move, certainly reflecting the rawer material on offer, but instead of multiplying the atmosphere, it has subtracted from it.
Wistful guitars still swirl around the mystical void Dynfari summon and mastermind Jóhann Örn still commands great focus on his melancholic and superbly delivered vocals. The bass, aside from brief moments and an unexpected front and centre moment on the intro to closing track ‘Of Suicide Redemption’, is largely buried in the mix and the drumming as I have mentioned can feel somewhat uninspired, but when the percussion is on form it is severely undercut by a poor recording.
Appreciating Myrkurs er þörf musically, Dynfari have still chalked up a quality album that can stand proudly alongside their other four records. A raw recording may still have been the right call here, but the execution leaves something to be desired. The quartet are still a very impressive band, with some of these songs – especially on the back end of the LP – being true highlights in the history to date. I would love to see them live [remember gigs?] and still can’t wait to hear what Dynfari have to offer up next.