Askrinn - _Hjørleifsljóð_
(Independent, 2014)
by: Chaim Drishner (8 out of 10)
Do you think Vikings listened to metal? Of course they did not. That notion would be preposterous. However, art, as inherently limitless as it is, can summon various sentiments and visions, even of Vikings -- never mind the fact said art, like music for instance, was composed centuries after the Vikings had disappeared and with them their culture (or lack thereof), customs, mythology -and- music. One doesn't have to listen to authentic Scandinavian folk music from the era of the Vikings in order to actually envision Vikings.

It's a very complex cascade of connotations and connections made by the endless synapses of our brains that responds to sounds and in turn conjures whatever sights, landscapes, flavors and emotions that brain of ours decides to come up with and is capable of. The problem is that an artist cannot always navigate his/her art into a desired outcome to be extrapolated by the audience so that the crowd would envision what the artist had desired it to envision. The best an artist can do is hope his audience will 'get' and understand his art, but how many of you really 'understand' an artist without a guide telling you what the artist -really- meant with his creation? Music-wise, you can try to write and play something as hard as you can, until you're blue in the face, and still the chaotic system of your audience's brains will relate to your art in an entirely different manner, understanding, in the end, something else altogether.

Whether the Vikings were just filthy pigs who had no value for human life and possessed nothing of the majesty and nobility portrayed by the music of _Hjørleifsljóð_ is debatable. Despite the fact the album is based on an epic saga that originated on the frozen shores of Scandinavia, it's good at least some of the inspiration that stood in the center of this fine recording was of Pagan origin; Pagan as in the sense of having close and intimate relations with Nature; the musical ode to the bond between humanity and the natural world and how it mirrors within the human soul. The Vikings were probably more heathens than pagans; a mythology filled with stories about a multitude of gods and their mischievous behaviors does not make one a Pagan. In that case many will find the 'Pagan' notion of this album and the landscapes it summons, more appealing and relate-able than the 'Viking' references the recording might have induced.

Askrinn's music, as well as the sole musician behind the project, Valenten, are not interested in epic tales of conquest, bloodshed, pillaging, looting and hey-ho let's raise a grail of mead while we're sitting around a campfire. Askrinn is all about spirituality. If to quote the man himself, Askrinn is "black metal about runic esoterism and forgotten lores", and the guy is somewhat of an expert on those subjects, judging by how he fluently and extensively lays his manifesto both on his website and info sheet he enclosed with the album. Not only that, but he claims to have used an ancient Scandinavian language, either Medieval Icelandic or Norwegian, whereas he, himself, is of French nationality.

_Hjørleifsljóð_ is a five-track EP of mesmerizing qualities. The sound and style are both seldom found on contemporary recordings, based on an aesthetic that belongs to the second wave of Scandinavian black metal -- as a reference point you could consider the earliest recordings by Hades, Borknagar, Kampfar and Ulver as the band's influences. The album mixes atmospheric guitar-driven, fast-strummed sections with acoustic guitar folk-oriented interludes, and the riffs all bear a sting of familiarity, rekindling the fires of black metal's finest hours dating back to the early-mid 1990s. The music is not exceptionally aggressive, even though some parts can be pretty fast and grinding, but the decision to maintain a steady-state melody throughout the recording makes it an intriguing and beautiful album to listen to.

The folk-ish acoustic parts have a medieval flavor to them, and the majority of the electric guitar leads have been charged with a subtle Middle-Eastern / Oriental choice of scales, enabling the whole of the album to shine with a certain degree of exotica. The vocals are raspy black metal croaks done right: they are never comical or laughable but rather the contrary; they maintain a certain somber quality and dark atmosphere, and they are used as an additional musical instrument in the recording -- never overpowering or buried in the mix, they are just there, ghostly and haunting and in perfect balance with the rest of the instruments.

The drums are an interesting issue here; though you could suspect they are of synthetic origin due to Askrinn being a one-man band (and one-man bands often use programmed drums), you couldn't really tell just by listening to the music whether these drums are programmed or the real deal. They sound natural enough and are an important asset to the music, even though they are just pace-generators and nothing more; but their effect on the music is notable and commendable, as they keep the dynamics alive and neatly push the compositions forward with a slight barbaric attitude that wonderfully contrasts the majestic ambiance.

Frankly, rarely do they create music such as this nowadays; actually, they almost don't. Not only style and production-wise, but managing to revive an era in metal that is long since dead and gone, is an accomplishment no one should take lightly. Add to this the beautiful tunes embodying the elements and the forces of nature, but never neglecting the human reference and relation to those elements, and you are in for a treat of sublime, ancient black metal that will play from start to finish in a heartbeat, always beckoning the listener for yet another round of sonic magic, and even after ten consecutive sessions will you remain unsatiated, guaranteed.

So, in the end, did the music of Askrinn manage to resurrect the sentiments within the listeners that it originally had meant to resurrect? You bet your asses it did, and more! Freezing nights and sun-scorched landscapes; leafless barren trees and evergreens, all find their way into this magnificent recording and in turn reverberate in the audience's psyche. Find this fine mini-album and embrace it, if you want to hear some quality naturalistic black metal having a strong nostalgic aroma.


(article published 13/11/2014)

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