Kaelan Mikla
Undir Köldum Norðurljósum


4.2
excellent

Review

by Dewinged STAFF
October 20th, 2021 | 32 replies


Release Date: 10/15/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Darkwave wraiths from another age, daughters of the night, hear them sing.

It took approximately 35 years from the time three girls were put in cryo in some clandestine lab in the underground of Reykjavik to their awakening in 2013. When they regained consciousness, the first thing they looked for were a battered drum set, a rusty bass and a book with poems they had kept close, a treasure from the poetry festival where they met for the first time. There's no other way to explain the fidelity in the sound of the Iceland-borne darkwave brigade Kælan Mikla's in relation with the golden years of synth worship: the decadent 80s.

But first things first, humble beginnings would be an understatement to describe what went through my mind when I first saw them perform live as part of the Iceland Airwaves sessions in 2014 for KEXP. Through that performance you could discern a very ambitious attitude and sharp confidence struggling to rip through their doubtful management of the instruments they were using at the time. Icelandic poetry spilled over solid bass lines zig-zagging at the drunk beat of the drums. Attitude against proficiency, lyricism versus musicality, art limited to the very few who understood the language of their northern homeland, so part of their message was largely lost in the ether. But they persevered for years, with two EPs documenting this age of awakening and growth, until in 2018, something changed profoundly.

I remember hearing the first synth notes of "Gandreið", the first track of their first full length, Nótt eftir nótt (Night after night), released in 2018, and feeling a glacial shiver down my spine when the bewitching chant of one of them evoked some sort of bone-chilling echo of Chelsea Wolfe's Abyss era resonating against the synths in what was a properly eerie introduction to a group who had evolved a great deal from that very first live footage I had watched years before.

Nótt eftir nótt already painted a clearer picture of what the trio was trying to convey, with their gloomy, almost spoken lyricism now supported not only by a scanty rhythm section, but with a newfound talent for melody and richer textures and a much more efficient rhythm base. Ghostly post punk met the glacial nature of their sound and finally something special was happening. Kælan Mikla had thunder in a bottle, and from that day, while December's agony started to kick in and AOTY lists flooded the media and vanished any new releases in that month, including the girls' enrapturing debut, their existence was kept on one dark corner of my mind, and I left it there, eagerly awaiting the day that they'd come back and what would they would bring with them.

And here we are, in 2021’s summer's death bed with Kælan Mikla surging like a geyser with new music after the longest time, and oh boy, it was worth the wait. Undir Köldum Norðurljósum (Under the Northern Lights) is the album I somehow knew they had in them. It's darker, colder, extremely bewitching and mesmerizing, with every aspect of their debut being a thoroughly improved version of what it was. "Svört Augu" (Black Eyes) is the perfect opener, a goth marvel of whispers and spectral harmonies that would make Dracula break his immortal neck to the unforgiving beat. "Sólstöður" (Solar Positions) continues the spell with a heavy midtempo and beautifully defined vocals, supported by their usual disturbing yelling and synth chains that reach to the moon while the bass keep them tied to the ground.

There are interesting events happening in the middle section too, with "Örlögin" effectively mixing up bits of dream pop with a new wave scent, the lunatic dance sorcery of "Ósýnileg", or the lengthy and inviting elegy "Sirenur" evoking a sweeter but darker version of Dead Can Dance in their goth phase. "Stormurinn " is strong enough to receive the “deep cut” award, incorporating one of the most alluring vocal melodies of the album, but is their collaboration with French blackgaze phenomenom Alcest what rules the final minutes of Undir Köldum Norðurljósum.

There's a good chance most of you have bridged from your love for Alcest to Kælan Mikla, and "Hvitir Sandar" (White Sand) is an ideal entry to do so. On the other hand, it is slightly disappointing that Neige's contribution doesn't grace the track with his misty cleans, resulting to just some background screams at the end of the song and some guitar wails floating in the reverb, while Winterkalte, who is credited as contributing with percussions doesn't really add to anything that the rest of the songs that came before had not already done. Still, and for other reasons, "Hvitir Sandar" is a hell of a tune, and one of the highlights of the trio's second full length. Finally, "Saman" closes the album peacefully, with carefully chosen words (not that I understand a single word, but how these words sound in context) sang in harmony in the Icelandic language, looming over a persisting arpeggio in a bluesy lullaby of fragile strings and crystalline notes dropping like morning dew on icy lake waters.

With better timing this year, and thanks to Canadian label Artoffacto Records (Skinny Puppy, ACTORS, Front Line Assembly, Kauan, etc.), Kælan Mikla has returned with an album that will resonate with any nocturnal creature fond of eternal goth legends The Cure or new wave stalwarts Siouxsie and the Banshees, with added mentions to more contemporary acts drinking from the blood of those two like Drab Majesty or Boy Harsher. As a final plea before I leave you in the hands of the daughters of the frost, let me say that, whoever is looking after them, whatever happens, please don't let them go cryo again, as I don't have much time left on this side of things and I'm delighted to share this timeline with them. That’d be all, you can go now and bathe in Nordic moonlight until next year.




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user ratings (20)
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
October 20th 2021


26428 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Borked things, be right back.



Edit: Ok, seems fixed, unsurprisingly, Sput can't read Icelandic.



One of my favorite bands, and it's also a sad reminder cause Papa Uni was the one that introduced me to them and he would have loved to hear this.



https://kaelanmikla.bandcamp.com/album/undir-k-ldum-nor-urlj-sum



Hope you guys enjoy the record.

Digging: Converge - Bloodmoon I

Slex
October 20th 2021


12623 Comments


Not into Wolfe at all but besides that this sounds niiice

Digging: Mol - Diorama

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
October 20th 2021


1638 Comments


Big review, sounds like the shit. Commenting as a reminder to listen ))))

[REDACCTED]

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
October 20th 2021


26428 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Fixed! Thanks Milo! Hope you dig it!



Slexy, think more The Cure and less Wolfe although at times the vocal delivery reminds me of her.

JesperL
Contributing Reviewer
October 20th 2021


3556 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

one of those 'oh shit i have their first album rated but i kinda don't remember it whatsoever' lol. great read dewi, will get on this!

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
October 20th 2021


26428 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

The first LP is pretty good man, more punk than this one, less melody more monotones, but I also like it. Seems they veered towards dark pop with this one and I think for the best.

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
October 20th 2021


3047 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Was hoping you'd review this, Dewi! Album's pretty great, jammed it a few times in the last few days (feeling like a high 3.5 right now, but may eventually bump it up). This isn't a genre I'm overly familiar with, but I can tell this is well-executed and it's got a nice spooky atmosphere for this time of year.

Celsius
October 20th 2021


672 Comments


Cool

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
October 20th 2021


26428 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Yeah dude, saw you and I were the only ones that rated it lol. Hopefully they get some more exposure here, they are really good, I love their spooky, melancholic vibe, feels so natural and the language sort of adds to that eerie feel.

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
October 20th 2021


3047 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah, I think this is one of those albums where the language barrier enhances it, makes the sinister atmosphere even better

TheNotrap
Staff Reviewer
October 20th 2021


16999 Comments


Nice writing Dewinged. One can tell you really love these girls.

Digging: Der Weg Einer Freiheit - Noktvrn

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
October 20th 2021


9541 Comments


now that was a cool read

Digging: Angele - Nonante-Cinq

DDDeftoneDDD
October 20th 2021


19433 Comments


Holy moly nice cover art.

Digging: Voices - Breaking the Trauma Bond

MyColdShoulder
October 20th 2021


134 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Literally just found out about this band today, what a coincidence!



Great review though, really like this album as well

BallsToTheWall
October 20th 2021


50653 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Oh, hell yeah!

Egarran
October 20th 2021


25421 Comments


After the Alcest collab I was disappointed I couldn't find them in the database.

Turns out I searched for 'Kælan' like a moron.

Digging: Kauan - Sorni Nai

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
October 20th 2021


26428 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Happened to me a while ago too Egarran, turns out Sput is not Icelandic friendly.



And thanks everyone! Jam away!

kevbogz
October 21st 2021


3840 Comments


this is very erotic

Digging: Portrayal of Guilt - Christfucker

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
October 21st 2021


26428 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Some parts are indeed very ASMR.

combustion07
October 21st 2021


9372 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I honestly don't know what darkwave is but definitely gonna check this out due to that cover. Good review also!

Digging: Reincarnation - Seed Of Hate



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