Review Summary: Though offering nothing that we haven't already heard before in the atmospheric Black Metal scene, Sem Skugginn still stands its ground as a very solid effort.
The artwork that conceals the music of Sem Skugginn
induces an almost ominous impression to the observer. Similar to Dynfari's previous eponymous debut, we are again met with a simple image depicting a cold and desolate winter. Perhaps meant as a homage to their Icelandic roots, but the symbolism of winter, and its usage of the colors black and white, speaks volumes about the nature of this album's content. "Black", "white", and "winter" all share an identical symbolic meaning, the representation of death. And death, as well as the emotions and thoughts that naturally arise in its utterance, play a major influence in the music of Sem Skugginn.
Opening with the dreary ambience of "Glötun"
, Dynfari slowly begin to expose their world to us. And it's a gloomy one. As the simple strumming of a few notes on the guitar fill our ears, with its sounds fluctuating in atmospheric dissonance, we immediately start to feel Dynfari's hypnotizing allure drawing us deeper and deeper into an abyss of endless black, a place so bleak that any source of light would find it hopeless to even illuminate. As we transcend beyond the ambient fog of "Glötun"
, we enter into the reality of Sem Skugginn. Songs like "Svartir Himnar"
exhibit the true nature of the album, bombarding us with the impassioned yet discordant essence of typical Black Metal. But the music encompasses a much more abstract agenda than simply delivering a brutal sound. Like most atmospheric Black Metal efforts, each song contains a series of progressive musical structures. For example, most of the orchestrations of the album tend to reflect moments of delicacy as well intensity. There's an eclectic range of influences that are embodying the music here, which is most evident in songs like "Hjartmyrkvi"
and "Sem Skugginn"
epics comprised of lengthy musical arrangements that explore contrasting melodic movements. Coated with haunting melodic textures, each song is very versatile in sound, featuring ariel soundscapes, gentle folk passages, and of course, a release of eruptive aggression. But no matter the change within the instrumentation, the mood of the album always manages to retain its melancholic theme, constantly suppressing us with the suffocating embrace of despair.
After perceptually absorbing all it has to offer, Sem Skugginn proves to be a very entertaining album. Though nothing innovative among its affiliated genres, it is still certainly a host to some very captivating moments. The musicianship, and the emotions Dynfari wants their sounds to induce, are accomplished with exquisite precision. With every chord and riff drenched in cryptic distortion and all the emphatic drum rhythms that erupt with thunderous volume, to the growls of frustrated anger that express animosity with every breath, Dynfari do an exceptional job at constructing a sound that consumes us into its own personal hell. And the most impressive aspect of it all is that this album was composed by only two multi-instrumentalist, Jóhann Örn and Jón Emil, under the limitations and modest budget that plague artist in the early stages of their career. Aesthetically, Sem Skugginn expands on the sound its predecessor, Dynfari
, but it doesn't really incorporate any new direction in style. Instead choosing to follow along the paths of its influences like Burzum, and particularly of that ventured by fellow Icelanders, Sólstafir. But artistically, it's quite ambitious. As I said before, Sem Skugginn doesn't show us anything we haven't already heard before, but at least Dynfari tries to offer us more than the usual blast beats and roaring guitars.
There's a lot of unique instrumentation being incorporated throughout the album, such as the calming flute solos in "Sem Skugginn"
, as well as the delicate guitar interludes that are encountered throughout most of the lengthier songs. All of these characteristics are conspicuously derived from influences outside of their Black Metal circle, as we find Dynfari transcending their way into genres like Progressive rock. It's admirable to see this young group expanding on their sound, but they tend to indulge too much on similar concepts and patterns. Almost every song follows the same musical sequences of going from ambient to boisterous, as well as vice versa, to the point where any sense of suspense is lost because we can kind of predict where they're going to take us next. Thus making the album sound repetitive and, quite frankly, played-out. I suppose there isn't much more that can be said about Sem Skugginn other than the fact that it is a solid attempt at atmospheric Black Metal. It's a very interesting album, and one that appeals to a wider audience because it contains enough brutality for the headbangers, while exhibiting enough experimental credibility to intrigue those who seek more venturous music.