Review Summary: Raw black metal artist is capable of something truly beautiful.
Ildjarn (aka Vidar Våer) is more or less known for his raw black metal approach, but it is not uncommon for black metal artists to make ambient albums. So, hearing about what "Hardangervidda" was, an ambient album with no vocals, I was expecting another album like Velvet Cacoon's "Atropine" or Burzum's "Hliðskjálf", ambient but still relying on the black metal attitude of former albums, portraying a supremely dark sound. However, Ildjarn took me completely by surprise with "Hardangervidda", creating a sort of instrumental concept album, utilizing only synth and small amounts of percussion. Hardangervidda is a mountain plateau in Våer's homeland of Norway, famous for its year-round alpine climate and gorgeous scenery. The music on this disk paints a surprisingly uplifting soundscape, seeming to portray the simultaneous cold beauty and mysterious peril, splashed upon the canvas in a minimalistic and transcendental fashion.
The album opens up with "Sunrise", which more or less throws the album a curveball first, beginning with minor chord progressions and an eerie atmosphere. Halfway through, the eerie atmosphere is dropped and beautiful major progressions kick in, which I believe signifies the sunrise. In this album, it seems as though the night is represented by the minor chords, fully enveloping the listener in the peril of Hardangervidda.
This album can be successfully divided into four parts: "Sunrise" signifies the beginning of the new day, and captures the glory of the sun rising over the cold earth. Tracks 2 through 11 more or less dominate the album with their various explorations of the soundscape, as they all rely on the major chord progressions exploring the frostbitten landscape, with moments of intense beauty ("Nature's Church" and "Amber Lake") and moments of peril ("Northern Winds"). The final tracks signify the final movements of "Hardangervidda," as "Sunset" illustrates the dying light and the final hours of the beauty, as "Night" reverts back to the minor chord progressions, and the eeriness hinted in "Sunrise." While some may find "Night" incredibly out of place and strange in terms of sound, it is a logical progression in Ildjarn's soundscape, and is ultimately stunningly consistent, wrapping up the day with its logical heir, night.
"Hardangervidda" is a journey through the frozen tundra bathed in warm light, maintaining a cold sound that alway hints at something more. Throughout the escapade, although stripped down to a minimal aesthetic, the chords resonate seemingly beyond our understanding, beyond our comprehension of nature and its mystery. I recommend taking this journey, perhaps on a walk in the mountains or along the streets in these cold winter days.