Review Summary: the crystallized eye of dementia.
It’s a little bewildering knowing a country as small as Iceland is harbouring such a wealth of musical brilliance. It makes sense though. Isolated in the northern Atlantic and wrought with unforgiving landscapes and a challenging climate, the topographical factors that have played into the birth of such a tight knit microcosm of artistic commune is very real. In the case of the highly revered genre colloquially known as “the almighty Metal”, Iceland has been pumping out some of the most frostbitten and emotively unsettling slabs of blackness in recent memory. You know, for a nation with a population you could damn near fit into a pair of football stadiums (less than 400 thousand permanent residents), the disproportionate amounts of high quality extreme metal coming from within its borders would be rather surprising if it were any other country. However, in much the same way continental Scandinavia fostered the development of black metal in the early and mid-90’s, the rugged shorelines of this majestic little island are not only invigorating the genre with new ideas, but executing them with a “quality over quantity” mentality that’s beginning to cast a longer and longer shadow over the metal world. Sure, the intrepid and callous geography no doubt plays a large part in incubating the staggeringly tactile darkness of these modern collectives, but it’s arguably the isolation of the island itself that owns a majority stake in what’s maintaining such a communal approach to their art. Boasting notable bands like Misthyrming, Sinmara, Carpe Noctum and Zhrine - who exist in a scene that often shares musical ideas and band members alike - Iceland's black metal resume is chalk full of high quality releases from a small populace of artists that eagerly collaborate on various projects together. The result is a synergy of creative juices that continues to push the genre's aesthetics to into new territories while staying trve to its dark traditions.
Spearheading this diabolically stellar black metal scene is the band in question, Svartidaudi. While borrowing noble amounts of influence from the lords of discord themselves, the group shares numerous aesthetic resemblances to Deathspell Omega and the flocks of imitators who followed suit, albeit without wading into the stagnant waters of mindlessly dissonant wankery. Boasting a unique approach to the craft, they’ve been perfecting dank and lightless voids of monochromatic despair since 2006. Opting for a patient, methodical approach to the art, the band’s debut full-length came out only after six solid years of demo tapes and collective refinement, culminating with the release of Flesh Cathedral
in 2012. Indeed, those six years of development really paid dividends, as this 57 minute swath of feverish horror is truly a world unto itself – a meditative gaze upon a decaying land, if you will – that captures torment and existential woe imbrued with ominous wonder like few albums ever have.
It feels like a train ride through the rotting fields of abandoned farmlands under a putrid yellow sky in a world poisoned mute, as you lay tender and dissociated from a high fever that blurs your vision. Moments of clarity overcome your fugue in fleeting rays of emotional release whilst you wrestle both inner and outer demons vying for your mortal flesh. The opening moments of “The Perpetual Nothing” couldn’t pose a more malicious posture before exploding into an unholy inferno of insidious blasts and discordant arrays of claustrophobic riffs. Serving as just a singular example of their magnificent songwriting, one would be remiss to reduce this Flesh Cathedral
to a sum of its parts. In much the same way Deathspell Omega’s Fas Ite Maledicti
rewrote the black metal handbook in 2008, Svartidaudi have created an unparalleled exploration of transcendental agony, paying equal homage to genre innovators both new and old with their brazen passion and thoughtful compositions. The vocals of bass-wielder Sturla Vithar mesh with the guitars on ghastly frequencies, with morose lyrical subjugations only bolstering the conviction of his vehemence. “Cross the borders of nightmares, venture into the sphere of horrors and gaze upon the distorted reflection of the immense nothingless of the Universe.”
The sickeningly hallucinogenic nature of the four sprawling tracks featured within is complimented by Magnus Skulason’s work on the skins as he enthusiastically syncopates cymbal and snare alike, rolling through a seamless spectra of tempo shifts and curious rhythms. The subtlety of the intricate percussion remains thematically sound, setting the adrenal pace anywhere between numbingly sedate to frenetically panicked while remaining ever conscious of the development of each musty passage. One look at the album cover tells all… this is a delirious and occult Rorschach blotter of long-form songwriting that sways with bone breaking momentum and lacerates moral tendons with passionate intention.
not only sinks any and all optimism into burbling pits of black tar, but flashes enough glimmers of hope and scenic awe to make the descent into a nihilistic hereafter all the more agonizingly uncertain. Any number of hopeless comparisons could surely give way to images of desolate and dying landscapes in a post-apocalyptic land wrought with famine and disease, but in the end this album is one of those high-watermarks of black metal with an atmosphere so stark and convincing that it really needs to be heard to be believed. Playing as one unit, the years of chemical reactions between the musicians permeates the entirety of this record. Moments like the weaving guitar leads of “Sterile Seeds”’ climax are bolstered by a cohesiveness that keep every instrument in the comfortable foreground without ever competing for time in the spotlight. It’s quite the spectacle really, seeing a band maintain such a staunch dedication to cognizant songwriting without reducing their theatric fires to lukewarm embers for the sake of accessibility or wanderlust. Svartidaudi’s approach is both lightless and grippingly air-tight, combining the best elements of the modern dissonance movement and spackling them with enough approachable melody and ingenious songwriting to elevate the emotional impact of their music to nigh-dizzying heights.
Those frightening melodies and counterpoints bear the unmistakable scars of a human element battered by an indifferent world lost to the throes of greed and conflict, all the while extroverted and militant in their insistence to inflict strife and decrepitude in equal measure. Atypical riffs seldom make an appearance, with flecks of familiarity serving as the only occasional reprieve to the suffocating and addictive poison of this full-length. Flesh Cathedral
balances the energies of epic conquest and pitiful defeat with an acrobatic confidence that maintains a sense of morbid excitement for the entire runtime without once degenerating into self-congratulation. I have, on numerous occasions, peered into this cosm of darkness seeking signs boastful songcraft to no avail. Indeed, Svartidaudi have a vision here and they don’t waver in their dedication to convey it in great detail to you. Moments like the thick wash of the title track’s inner sanctums remain rhythmically dynamic, never settling on one thought for too long and engineering seamless threads between expressionist chords and zealous releases of neurologically paralyzing pirouettes of vanitas emotion. Very seldom does dedication to an aesthetic meet musicianship in such an emotive marriage, and Flesh Cathedral
is a massive accomplishment for Svartidaudi that will timelessly cement their status among modern-day black metal legends with ease. Assuredly captivating and incredibly well composed, Svartidaudi’s incendiary debut is one for the ages that any fan of the genre should consider essential listening.