Not much would strike you as inherently unique about Iceland’s Misþyrming until around three minutes into their debut album Söngvar elds og óreiðu. See, up until then, the music is fairly straightforward for the style. Not to say that’s a bad thing, as it’s definitely not. Misþyrming know how to create beautifully dissonant and pounding black metal with layers of swirling ambient and melody as the driving current beneath the surface, but it’s not until the listener hits that three-minute mark that this duo stops being “predictable” and solidifies themselves not only as fantastic songwriters, but as one of the biggest standouts in black metal in 2015.
2:25 is where the change begins: the band slows down from their furious tremolo riffing and blast beats and locks into a mid-paced groove. It feels meditative, welcome, like a breakdown that helps usher the listener into the album, but then we get to the three-minute mark and the music shifts entirely into a dissonant, melodic, psychedelic riff. Angelic voices—or maybe just well done synths—rise behind the music and H.R.H.’s drums start with a basic pattern before he kicks in with double bass drums. Eventually the drums progress into another blistering blast beat, all while this one guitar riff plays, yet is changed into an entirely new beast with each tiny shift in dynamic. This one riff is given a new meaning and aesthetic as the rest of the music changes around it. The guitarist/vocalist D.G. belts out his low-end howls and the music picks back up in the same ruthless manner as at the beginning of the song, only more chaotic and intense.
It’s this kind of progression in songwriting that makes Misþyrming such a creative band. They take the solid foundations of great black metal and push that fold with smart, subtle songwriting that is more effective than most others in the modern scene. Where many bands are looking to make black metal as diverse as possible, mutating it and pulling it out by the root, Misþyrming are staying true to what makes the genre a force to be reckoned with. Deep, ritualised ambient passages permeate the record, but don’t sound as tired as just ripping off Burzum’s ambiance, or trying to emulate Beherit’s unique approach to ritual. Most of the ambient here is underlying the black metal tracks, but embodies itself wholly in ‘Frostauðn’ and ‘Stjörnuþoka’, based around haunting, droning synthesisers and noise. There’s more to these tracks than just “filler”, and being engulfed in the ambiance of the final track, the listener has a chance to meditate on the album before its end, rather than being thrust out of it in a swirl of guitars and distortion.
It’s not only Misþyrming’s approach to song structure that makes them stand out, but also the way the guitarist approaches melody. One minute it’ll have a thick, vicious tone, the next it’ll have a wailing melodic solo riding beneath it, and this kind of production gives the music a whole new aesthetic. Instead of the solos soaring over the rest of the music, the melodies are like an atmospheric wave beneath the pummelling rhythmic riffs. It’s too easy to call these dissonant riffs “Deathspell Omega” influenced; there’s more to it than that, and it’s a slight to the band—or any band, for that matter—to quickly jump at the opportunity to cry “Deathspell Omega!” at the first sign of disharmonic guitars. Within a currently flourishing Icelandic scene, Misþyrming, much like their peers, create unique atmospheres with their experimental edges to songwriting. It’s particularly evident on the track ‘Söngur uppljómunar’: this mid-paced track sounds like a blackened heavy metal song with melodic structures and atonal, grooving riffs, and is a distinctive track within the context of the album.
Misþyrming is here to show that black metal doesn’t need to be diluted post-rock and twinkling crescendos to sound majestic or massive, doesn’t need to be unnecessarily technical or structurally haphazard to feel progressive, and doesn’t need to be overly ambitious with everything it does to be effectual. Söngvar elds og óreiðu is one of the best records of the year so far, and only continues to impress over multiple listens with its deeply subtle and thoughtful songwriting. For all the originality this album bears, never does it compromise the cold, unwavering qualities that made black metal such a special genre to begin with.