DANISH BLACK METAL
8/10 – KATIE HALEY-HALINSKI
There’s something really quite masterly about Agantyr’s ‘Forvist’. It’s pretty traditional black metal of the Swedish school/later Norwegian wave, so the aesthetic is ferociously bleak: windswept, trebly guitars, pummelling double-kick drums, a bass tone that is somewhere between a stabbing bark and a static-drenched background thrum. And yet, despite this churning horror, the composition is a subtle thing of dusk-burnished grace, allowing these songs to take the listener on a voyage much further than they might have anticipated on first listen, which given the length of the tracks is a good thing indeed.
The album opens with the eleven-minute ‘Lænket’, which pulls the listener with slow intent from a quiet, lyrical acoustic melody that sounds like a funeral march folk song swept by wind and waves. Then the abrasive black metal explodes onto the scene with no warning, the melody being transformed by the addition of battering drums, the melody blending folk/”Viking metal” melodic elements with a sombre, vicious yet majestic sense of classical composition. It keeps the blend of influences in a kind of controlled chaos, rising and falling in intensity and pace like the tides, and just as irresistible. This segues into the disquieting ‘I Forfædres Fodspor’ which has a far heavier emphasis on the off-beat in its shifting time signatures, which mark out what you might call movements in the track, ranging from more straight sections where the rhythm becomes more regular and driving, to a kind of 12/8 war-dance that has a seething vitality to it, and a Viking metal folk song memorability to the melodic structures. In some ways, the opening to ‘Vemodes Hjemstaven’ functions as a companion piece, taking a similar lead line and exaggerating the minor key structure and treble in the guitar to make it feel more spectral and haunting in aspect, while conversely the drums drop their menacingly playful triple-time dance to assume a pounding, relentless cymbal-and-double-kick pattern that propels the track with startling ferocity, before the midpoint switches back to the earlier sombre warpath sounds, upping the bass and mid on the guitar and slowing down the tempo and little. The title track, ‘Forvist’, however, does not segue smoothly but opens a new section, and one of searing energy and frightening vitality. The sprint-paced drumming and the dark melody, almost requiem-like in its structure, create a truly exhilarating yet fearful experience for the listener. The atonal vocal fry grates with knifelike keen-ness against the hugely evocative guitar, in a way rarely heard done so well. Then, the mournful ‘Fælles Fjende’ uses a simpler 4/4 stomp on the drums and a thicker guitar tone to emulate a gritty, post-apocalyptic synth sound, while using it for an intricate, polyphonic rawness where threads of melody interweave, with galloping sections of more metal-influenced chord progressions. The repetition of descending scales , disquienteningly harmonising, make the track build to a thrumming intensity primal and emotive all at once, before the waltzing triple-time opens out the claustrophobic texture to a sparser sound. This unsettling synth/guitar confusion carries into the guttural churnings of ‘Stille Skarpe Knive’, as vocal fry takes on a living-corpse death growl snarl and retains a baritone grate throughout, and the chilling mechanistic tint dogs the guitar tone throughout. Yet the melody itself and the slower overall tempo that overshadows the cascading percussion assault speak of a sense of things coming to an end, an elegiac brutality. This then fades to an acoustic, Renaissance-style guitar melody, as if waking from a nightmare. Yet, the black metal aesthetic returns for one last voyage in ‘Skovens Egne Våben’, where the drums heave and pound, and the guitars tremble like harsh spectres. This one in particular is closer to the cyclical nature of raw black metal, however the dense texture and sense of melodic intent suture the track to the rest of the album well.
Although Agantyr doesn’t categorically push the envelope with ‘Forvist’, and the slightly bland vocals leave me somewhat underwhelmed, the sheer level of composition and attention to detail is quite something. Furthermore, it is the subtlety and diversity of influence within a restrictive sound that really sets this apart. Each track holds the folk-melody, almost folkloric appeal to some kind of instinctive melody, and is executed with the structuring and compositional sensibilities of classical music. The result is an album which rewards as much as it unsettles, and which truly does feel like a voyage into beyond. Find this album, and let it engulf you in its merciless arms.