Coiling inward atop the spines of the deepest, richest obsidian spirals conjured by the righteous orthodox black metal movement of the post-millennium’s greatest innovators Icelandic black metal is wretched anomaly fed by interest and praise from all parties gloriously Satanic or otherwise. Further blurring the tenebrous sorceries of French mastery honed by the adventurous tact of Hasjarl and Vindsval into their own life’s work is not without honor and the result is a scene of great competing blasphemies boring a hole to the dead core of the Earth, starting in Reykjavík. The young musicians making up this ghastly scene are collaborative, encouraging, and share lofty musical goals with each ambitious release; This second full-length from one of their elder collaborations again conjoins key members of Reykjavík’s prime aphotic zone dwellers Misþyrming, Naðra as well as pagan warriors Árstíðir Lífsins for Carpe Noctem‘s great vision, ‘Vitrun’, which realizes greater blackened chaos and soul-damning doom alike in building atmosphere leagues deeper than previous.
What started as a relatively straight forward examination of Deathspell Omega‘s revolutionary momentum beyond ‘Inquisitors of Satan’ amongst Icelandic fellows around 2005 would evolve towards the plain but clever orthodoxy of Carpe Noctem‘s self-titled debut EP in 2009 as the line-up expanded beyond its original trio and into further ambitious territory. The mark left by ‘Kénôse’ would not fade but with rising ambitions next to similarly influenced groups like Svartidauði the next step for Carpe Noctem was almost unexpectedly driven by a harrowing, doomed atmospheric black metal style that favorite long compositions that breathed blackened fire rather than collapsed within complex dissonance or anxious movements. ‘In Terra Profugus’ (2013) was nothing short of brilliant in capturing truly surreal landscape and growling blackness instead of the expected relentless style. With two members forming the equally atmospheric but further aggressive Misþyrming around that time it was clear that some greater thought into divergent pacing and undiluted atmospherics had paid off in differentiating Carpe Noctem from the expectations of a ‘Paracletus’ obsessed clone.
The tragedy of ‘In Terra Profugus’ being largely overlooked by the masses is doubly confounding considering how the project has expanded upon that original sound through roughly five years of conception. Not only has the Icelandic black metal scene corrupted further into dissonant darkness and encouraged a mountainous number of pretenders but many of the established acts have taken their time in forming new constructs of their own. ‘Vitrun’ lands with the confidence of an original thought and then expands itself in the mind once rooted as a virus of the senses that captivates and stymies the sight of the listener. The great surprise of this cognitive damning is that it is done with objective beauty rather than chaotic fury. If the previous album had all the room it needed to spray fire and spread wings then ‘Vitrun’ simply glides freely atop thermals created by an apocalypse-inflamed world. Instead of resting atop the hum of impending doom, Carpe Noctem now create a great echoing morass of hallucinatory blackened ecstasy.
For all of the flowery hyperbolic poetic nonsense I could throw at it the bulk of ‘Vitrun’ will be most exciting to folks who have ‘In Terra Profugus’ to compare and contrast with. The approximately ten minute compositions return with some respite in between and the focus of each song tends to gravitate towards atmospheric black metal techniques filtered through the subversive guitar work one expects from Icelandic black metal. The major difference here comes with some elements of death metal creeping through at the most intense peaks of Carpe Noctem‘s performances along with a generally less restful vocal. What was poignant and surreal before is now a creeping deathlike monstrosity that edges forward in calculated ways; “Og hofið fylltist af reyk” is the perfect example of this dynamic as it dives into periods of psychedelic horror. What was previously the existential anxiety of doom seeping through has given way to a terrible encroaching darkness far more dangerous than previous, and I think this sensation will be satisfying for black metal fans seeking a balance of complexity and atmospheric interest.
Not only is vocalist Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson admirably poetic with his lyrics but he works his epic Icelandic poem into a journey of sights, visions in and outside of reality. He offers a wordy trip that cares so little about explaining itself, perhaps understanding that translation from Icelandic can stray the meaning so far from intended imagery with potential to create even greater surrealism. Walking along this blurry path of dissonance with my own poor translation of as a roadmap helped create a great curious wilderness of thought surrounding the artistic intentions of ‘Vitrun’ and whether or not that was the point, it was redeeming beyond the time I spent with ‘In Terra Profugus’. The apex of my own experience was “Hér hvílir bölvun” (“Here Lies a Curse”) not only a thrilling venture musically speaking but as a foreboding narrative that lined up with the piece brilliantly. The whole album is meticulously crafted in this sense and the more attention I paid to the details the more depth I found. If you are the type to seek this sort of sub-dermis, rather than simply ‘feel’ and discard music, there will be some worthy meaning to glean from the obscured details of ‘Vitrun’. The experience works either way.
By virtue of being compelling enough to analyze and scrape over for nearly two months I can very safely recommend ‘Vitrun’ as a more than worthy follow up to the underrated debut from Carpe Noctem. At no point does this record create an impasse for the flow of thought or fascination as the heightened fidelity and aggressive performances allow for much more than listless chaos and dreamy atmosphere. I can highly recommend the experience but, not for its memorability or ‘catchy’ aspects; Each of the 9+ minute songs does have a reprieve or respite that is meant to redirect or distract the listener from the rapid, seemingly randomized blackened spiral of horrors the drives the overall experience. For preview it makes the most sense to begin with the most challenging, extensive and atmospheric tracks to induce the peak effect of ‘Vitrun’ so I am recommending beginning with the mid-album onus of “Og hofið fylltist af reyk” and then the epic closer “Sá sem slítur vængi flugunnar hefur náð hugljómun” as a grand introduction to the bulk of a worthy full listen.
One word in an unbroken canticle. 4.0/5.0
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