I have been majorly soul-crushed by some crazy virus this week. It started with a sore throat that eventually progressed to the point that it felt like I was swallowing glass-laced whiskey. Followed a few days later by massive congestion and coughing. I haven’t been able to hear out of my right ear for three days. And I’m home alone this week, since Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane is traveling for work. I have left the house exactly four times in the last four days, attempting to work from home. Twice I walked to the mailbox. Once I drove to a McDonalds less than a mile away. And once I drove to the teriyaki place. That’s even closer to my house than McDonalds. That’s it. Probably 15 minutes outside in four days.
I may be losing my mind.
So what better time to crack into those Icelandic black metal tapes I brought back from Airwaves in November, right? Right??
My man Gustur at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records is all about tapes. Tapes, tapes, tapes. He’s the Count of Cassettes, and I have him to thank for helping me secure one of the five (yes… only five…) cassette copies of the recently released Icelandic music compilation Snarl 4. When I asked him if there was anything new and particularly interesting out, he pointed me to a small stack of tapes behind the counter, all fairly recent releases by the Icelandic indie label Vánagandr. All of it black metal. He was pretty stoked about them, and he’s not even a metal guy. Plus, they were pretty cheap.
And I passed on them.
And then after thinking about them for two days I went back and bought a copy of each. Because why not? I like Iceland, I like metal, and I like to support the indie bands and labels. Plus I’d recently bought a used Technics bookshelf stereo with a tape deck specifically for this kind of scenario. So the next time I was in there (which was seemingly three times a day during Airwaves) I scooped one of each of the four titles he had in stock.
Which brings me to tonight, sitting here listening to the debut album by Null & Void, which came out back in August 2014. It’s one long track – a 34-minute exploration of heavy, oppressive doom, occasionally punctuated by some tormented, wailing vocals. It’s relentless. Sometimes it comes at you as a sludgy bludgeoning, other times with breakneck intensity, shredding guitars, and super-fast drums. And the transition from one pace to the other is jarring to your mind, like someone flipping a switch in that base, primordial unconscious. I like Null & Void best at their slowest, their weightiest, their most smothering, with the sense of underworld doom that give the vocals their perfect showcase (though damn those guitars are good too…).
And then there’s Naðra with their release Eitur, a two-song 17-minute burst of hell that came out back in April. Naðra comes at you right out of the gate like a rabid Cerberus, lashing out at the dead who are trying to escape the underword to get back to the land of the living. It’s speed and power, hitting you with both barrels at once. Until, of course, such time that they decide to yank on the handbrake, slamming your head against the windshield, and bringing it down to a sudden crawl, crawling along with the weight of the bass on your back. And the vocals don’t let up. They just keep coming, in a more aggressive fashion than was heard on Null & Void. The singer isn’t tormented. He’s the tormentor. You might think that based on my preference for the slower parts of Null & Void that I’m not as much of a fan of Naðra’s generally faster style, but that’s not the case. I really like Naðra’s pacing – the music holds together well and is the right accompaniment to the more in-your-face vocals. The band has been together since 2008, and it shows. Solid.
Mannveira has been around a while too, a duo who have been together since 2010. Wait, what? A two-man metal band??? Is that even possible? Actually, yes it is. Von Er Eitur (Hope is a Poison, or Hope is Toxic, according to Google Translate) has a rawer feel than the other two tapes I’ve listened to so far, at least on the title track. But the second song, “Eðjan,” might be the best thing I’ve heard tonight. I can’t quite put my finger on a reason, though stylistically it sounds more “familiar” to my ears, ears not well versed in the the realm of black metal. But musically it’s more reminiscent of an almost sort of industrial thrash, but with a disjointedness that takes it to a different place. Vocally this is more deep growling, but with enough range that you can hear both aggression and despair at the same time, which contributes even more to the jarring, unsettling energy coming from Mannveira. It’s perhaps more approachable for the black metal neophyte, and pretty damn good.
That brings us to Carpe Noctem who, originally founded in 2005, may be the grand-daddies of this group of metallers. And this four-song EP is also a bit different in that it’s a re-release, having originally come out back in 2009. And man, let me tell you – I’m glad someone dusted this bad boy off and put it out again. Because it’s awesome. Right form the opening track “Vargsfæðing” this thing flat out shreds, coming at you like an 18-wheeler full of aviation fuel with no brakes. The guitars are red hot and the drums machine gun fast, and it doesn’t let up. Musically Carpe Noctem’s songs seem to have the most traditional metal “structure” – there’s a real flow to their stuff that leads to a more enjoyable listening experience to me. I could listen to more of their music in one session, I suspect, because it doesn’t hit me with the same angst-ridden mental roller coaster that blasts through my brain with a lot of other black metal. bands. Maybe that doesn’t appeal to the purist. I don’t know. I’m just a guy who basically hasn’t left his house in four days. But Carpe Noctem brings it, relying more on speed and technical expertise than simple, massive weight. If you have any doubts that their metal is true, put on “Skálholtsbrenna” and hear the error of your ways.
Things are looking pretty good for Vánagandr. A number of their releases are already sold out, but don’t fret – the label tells me they’re 100% about the music and not looking to create collectible/fetish items, but tapes that real people listen to, and they don’t want to see their releases become expensive “rarities”. If there’s demand, they’ll put out more! They’ve got a new tape from another Icelandic band Misþyrming coming out shortly and more stuff in the works for 2015. I’ll be making a point of looking out for some of their bands when I’m back in Iceland for Airwaves in November, and hopefully will come home with another pocket full of tapes. As for you, my friend, hell, check ’em out on Facebook or their WEBSITE and order direct from the label. Support the little guy out there getting it done.