Sol An Varma
Sol an Varma


4.3
superb

Review

by robertsona STAFF
April 27th, 2023 | 24 replies


Release Date: 04/07/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Entropy made delicious.

Sol an varma is a studio recording made a year after a one-off performance at the 2018 Roadburn Festival of a 70-minute suite of the same name. Like the Bloodmoon or Jane Doe performances offered by Converge at different years of that same festival, there was a certain rarefied air around the 2018 Sol an varma performance, especially for those who would see the abbreviations “T.I.” and “D.G.” and think of the Misthyrming (I am not deploying that Old English thorn) bandmates and co-founders of Icelandic metal label Vanagandr, instead of the weirdest Zoomer/millennial hip-hop collab of all time. Before during and after COVID made everyone realize how much they wanted to see 5 Seconds of Summer just that one last time, there were Robin Hoods all over the place trying to distribute slices of these kinds of one-time-only sonic baptisms, and you can watch about 10 minutes of the performance on YouTube if you’d like. These mavens of Icelandic metal (have fun sorting them out if you don’t know the scene: it’s all postmodern abbreviations, baby! Finnegans Wake in this bitch!) decided graciously to join in on the wealth-distributing fun: starting with the actual studio recording of their hour-plus composition in 2019 and then lumbering so goddamn slowly to its 2023 release finish line, Sol an varma have finally allowed their grand project to reach the ears of a surely particular but just as surely adoring fanbase.

Sol an varma sounds synthetic, like a wonderfully rendered traditional Icelandic kjotsupa where you can somehow taste each ingredient even as the meatiness of the central conceit–delicious hunks of lamb, or overwhelming waves of guitar, your pick–serves to ground the whole thing and provide the consumer that desire to just keep going. This light eclecticism makes sense: by all accounts this album was a full-bodied collaboration first between T.I. and D.G. and then between the seven performers who ultimately ended up onstage at Roadburn 2018. Sol an varma moves so confidently between the broadly defined poles of doom metal and black metal that it puts a happy spin on Immanuel Kant’s “taste-in-food”/”taste-in-art” analogy: I don’t know if I really get excited when I see either of those genres on my plate these days, but good Lord, this time, my compliments to the chef. This is delicious.

Sol an varma is muscular, massive, sometimes very frightening, and seems to document more seamlessly and effortlessly a lot of the subjective experiences that I figure many doom and black and doomblack and blackgaze and crossover thrash bands are after: the pummeling drums and muscular, usually quite simple and even consonant riffs feel like a flight through the nighttime forest, but little details filled in everywhere–often in the spectacularly unhinged vocals–add a filter of insanity, a sense of some crazed force chasing you, a feeling of increasing madness and entropy. I mean, Misthyrming drummer H.R.H. (not present on this album–keeping up?) adduced Newton’s second law of thermodynamics in a 2018 interview: “You’ve got to work with the 2nd law of thermodynamics, you can’t work against it,” he quipped, intellectually supplementing D.G.’s comment that “The madness will stop when we die.” And go ahead and read the lyrics to this album’s third track, I dare ya: “The fire will absorb all matter and will eventually dissolve the earth and the rest of the world into vapors. The core of the Sun will absorb these vapors until nothing remains in the surrounding void. The core will then withdraw into itself until it explodes and thus gives birth to the new world. Everything will fall.” Boom! Cosmically roasted!

This is all familiar territory even if a lot of metal-band interviewees/philosophers don’t talk about thermodynamics per se. In theory physicists the world over are not lying about the universe actually, really increasing in atomic untenability through time, and many metal bands have made it their goal to incorporate this and other indices of overwhelming and sublime chaos throughout our world into a sonic weave of subjective anguish and ecstasy and guitars and drums. My favorite black metal albums, like Nattens madrigal and Dead as Dreams, prove this sonic correlative to be pretty ***ing powerful, as good a goal to have as a group of musicians as any, an awesome thing to achieve when it’s done right.

So yeah, Sol an varma, which translates to “Sun without radiance” (I also saw the funny and probably erroneous translation “Sunless sun” somewhere), is an album after that experiential holy grail of metal music, the spark of utter disorder and chaos that is held in check and given context (and therefore made as powerful as it could possibly be) by a baseline in recognizable structures and careful manipulations in tone. Zoom in on any moment during Sol an varma and you’ll find traces of consummate artistry: I’m listening right now to “Afbrigdi 7,” and the balance of density in guitars (so that we hear The Density Itself, like the heavy scumbling on a Monet painting that inevitably calls attention to its material construction) and the weird triumphant tone that emerges (as if we stood back and suddenly saw the beautiful Monet woman and her parasol) is so on-point that the ceaseless roll of droning guitars and crashing drums starts to feel profound. And then suddenly “Afbrigdi 8” comes on and we’re thrust into a nearly groovy syncopation on the drumkit (5/4 time, am I hearing?) layered atop contemplative guitars, like a dude booking it down Oskjulhid Hill while staring with a crazed grin at his boots the entire time. If “Afbrigdi 8” is surprising in that it feels like it’s undanceable because it’s 5/4 and not because it’s black metal per se, perhaps that’s just a signal of Sol an varma’s splashless confidence with genre experimentation.

Despite its length and panoply of arty sonic touches and many structural detours, however, Sol an varma doesn’t register as “experimental” so much as immensely fussed-over, the result of okay-maybe-not-4.5 but at least a couple years of hard work, so much so that it sustains the illusion of possessing a vestige of that initial jam session between these guys, who clearly draw so much from the vacillations of the natural world around them, which exists in such a different way than it does, say, here in New York. I’m grateful to have access to these global visions, and the condensation of power and horror in these twelve tracks is often so harmonious and smart and easily pulled-off for this rat pack of riff gurus that you feel like you’re there with them. But, as Bertolt Brecht once taught us, sometimes it’s good to be “brought out of the experience” in particular aesthetically salutary ways, and there are so many moments where Sol an varma ratchets up from merely great to holy-*** fantastic that you can’t possibly conclude but that this was a life project, the result of years if not decades of collective passion. Some of these moments are just plain awesome: the intense tangle of insane screams on “Afbrigdi 3,” which both descend eternally and somehow sustain their collective pitch, in a stairway-to-Hell sonic illusion worthy of an M.S. Escher painting. Sometimes tracks themselves are counterposed in equally brilliant ways: the melodic triumphalism of “5” into the wintry trudge of “6,” the coldly pretty ambient outro afterglowing the symphonic ambitions of the penultimate track.

There’s a weird part of me that wants to talk about that aforementioned COVID FOMO phenomenon I’ve noticed over time, to say that these Icelanders have proven once and for all that there’s some sense or other in which it’s increasingly possible to “be there” without having really been there at all, that we should all look after Sol an varma’s example in distributing our time- and location-specific curated experiences to a wider audience after the fact. But part of the magic of Sol an varma is its irreducibility to aesthetic or cultural call-and-response (hence, perhaps, that long wait…), its patterns of action instead resonating on that thermodynamic plane, the one where upon our very occasional entry we become glancingly aware of the sensations between sensations that drive us to do the things we do and seek out the feelings we wish to feel. There’s some sense in which the constitutive disarray in extreme metal music should probably push us to feel increasingly different and weird things, things we haven’t experienced before and that will unseat us from the “tastes” we’ve so lovingly cultivated. Yes, indeed, it probably should–part of the lesson of extreme music is that we should try to change up our diet every once in a while. But, c’mon, be nice. Let me have this, at least for the next few months. Please? Okay, he’s ready to take our order. Yeah, I’ll have the usual.



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user ratings (67)
3.9
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 27th 2023


27162 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

oh yes

DocSportello
April 27th 2023


3310 Comments


might check for da verfremdungseffekt, lovely review : )

NightOnDrunkMountain
April 28th 2023


502 Comments


Finally an album of this

twlight
April 28th 2023


8613 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i like that first chord

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 29th 2023


27162 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

Dunnnnnnnn

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 30th 2023


27162 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

rip

autosacrifice
May 1st 2023


127 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this hits all the right spots. spooky, doomy, riffy and a little weird

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 1st 2023


27162 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

totally agree

parksungjoon
May 1st 2023


46886 Comments


>My favorite black metal albums, like Nattens madrigal and Dead as Dreams

based

parksungjoon
May 1st 2023


46886 Comments


curious if this actually sounds like svartidaudi and all that shit or if its simply, yet again, for the 300th time, nylonhair desperately trying to flex his impotent micropenis by vandalising our website's pages with incorrect similar artists nicked in mechanical fashion from metal-archives without a moment of critical thinking or even listening to the music in question at all

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 1st 2023


27162 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

I would have no idea I have not heard any of these bands I just needed to write. But I love the fire

parksungjoon
May 1st 2023


46886 Comments


🔥🔥

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
May 6th 2023


27162 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

metalheads don’t b commenting 😔

tectactoe
May 9th 2023


7156 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

About halfway thru atm, this is rippin'. Didn't expect a 'sona review for this one, but you love to see it.

NightOnDrunkMountain
May 21st 2023


502 Comments


^^ lol ok

----

Kick ass record

Aluktodolo
May 28th 2023


533 Comments


I thought this album was excellent; it sounds both spontaneous and tightly composed. My only issue is track V, specifically the clean vocals. I’m not sure what they were thinking there and I’d quite happily cut that track completely.

Observer
Emeritus
July 10th 2023


9390 Comments


love that album art

Azazzel
August 21st 2023


937 Comments


oddball review for an odd record but that's what makes it one of this years more intriguing offerings in the black arts for me. need to revisit. also wow this 3.89 w 112 votes is just edging out Kostnateni 3.86/160, though likely cause the latter is polarizing and caught a mini hype wave

PizzaBear
November 10th 2023


445 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"My only issue is track V, specifically the clean vocals. I’m not sure what they were thinking there and I’d quite happily cut that track completely."



Hard disagree, love the riffing in that track. Reminds me of some of my favourite aspects of Misthyrming riding that line between melody and dissonance.

Hawks
December 4th 2023


84733 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This slayz.



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