A pale giantess, the goddess of gold, who would hone and protect the fire sword of Surtr under nine locks greets Svipdagr with sole weapon that might kill the beast whose meat would distract the dogs that guard the castle of the goddess he is betrothed. He would conjure necromancy, resurrecting his dead mother who’d enchant him with nine spells: Steadiness upon surprise, guard from all angles, protection from drowning, guarantee of a fair fight, freedom from shackles, protection from inclement weather at sea, resistance to frost, denial of haunt by a wraith, and great charisma when locked in a war of words. Gróa‘s spells create an able warrior from an unprepared young man and ready Svipdagr to reach his intended goddess, Menglöð. The quests and trials in reaching the gates are ultimately parable for maturation, to develop thy self and know thy self with such confidence that to simply speak your name with confidence, which Svipdagr learns he must, will open the gates to the goddess sought. A third paradigm of self-definition sets Reykjavík, Iceland based black metal project Sinmara abreast a new continuum amongst the whispering stars of atmospheric and melodic black metal nuance in reaching beyond the chaotic forms of the past towards diabolical fluidity. ‘Hvísl Stjarnanna’ is a spell cast with freedom of obstruction, a growth unlimited that creates echoes forward, a seiðr honed of hex to render new futures possible just as Earth would self-destruct.
Chao bore the mark of orthodox black chaos still a handful of years beyond Reykjavík’s post-millennium Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord influenced mania in joining the steadying momentum of acts like Svartidauði in clangor and worship of ultimate darkness. The seas would turn violent with change in 2013, perhaps a few years earlier considering the greater Icelandic black metal scene’s skyrocketing popularity, and Sinmara was born from the discontinuation of the Chao name. With key members of Almyrkvi, Slidhr, Wormlust, and Svartidauði there was no question Sinmara would receive considerable notice as they were signed and released their debut full-length ‘Aphotic Womb’ in 2014. Though it does appear as the natural continuation of their work as Chao, and it is a fine record, much of that debut felt ‘on trend’ and of the moment. The focus on dissonance appeared for the sake of it rather than with reason and I found it brought little new within such a vibrant pool of talent. ‘Within the Weaves of Infinity’ (2017) EP was a new, third form for the artists. It brought in melodious gigantism to their forms and swept aside the over-imitated Deathspell Omega guitar techniques in exchange for memorable atmospheric epics. ‘Hvísl Stjarnanna’ whirls lævateinn in spirals, taking this third sea-change and giving life to watery, blustering titans of song.
Fluid and practiced as Svartidauði (guitarist Þórir Garðarsson persists in each line-up) but distinct in atmospheric lilt and melodic bent to a point where Sinmara could not be confused for their brethren the guitar work on this second album finds the band still resembling kin they’ve evolved alongside. As with ‘Revelations of the Red Sword’ this is a new and impressive evolution of Icelandic black metal that is shoulder deep within its own humours, yanking out new viscera without relying on the forms of the orthodox movement that defined earlier releases. “Apparitions” bulges the walls of the dark temple it fills with smoke and black flame, it is a grand reception after a half-decade of shorn growths by well-polished blade and Sinmara do not waste time in unveiling their new vision. The track shows measured balance of grand atmospherics, intensely dynamic Studio Emissary production, and the aforementioned melodic leanings. “Mephitic Haze” is the exemplar extreme of this vision, a certain melodic peak of the album, that almost resembles a dark metal guitar hook as it reaches the five minute mark. Brief as this moment is in hindsight it feels enormous within the complex bubbling stew-and-ooze of the rest of the album, which begins a descent into drying darkness beyond “Crimson Stars”.
What connects the dreamlike tonality and the austere grandiosity of ‘Hvísl Stjarnanna’ into something newly interesting is the lasting core malevolence inherent to Sinmara. The intensity that arrives within the guitar and drum interplay largely impresses alongside the treatment of the diabolical heroine described in each tale told. The album is valuable to me as a melodic black metal fan even though it really doesn’t focus too intently on the more predictable, or memorable, forms found in Scandinavian classics. The listening experience was initially gratifying but to analyze and suss out why took quite a long time and well over twenty listens. Melodic portions are strewn about the full listen, some taking several minutes to conclude within several subtle movements. As such ‘Hvísl Stjarnanna’ is a dense yet ever-flowing black metal record that is clean and modern but still entirely ‘human’ with drum performances that are adept, dramatic and always organically performed. I warmed to it, became swept up into it, and then in the midst of becoming mystified by its expression began to grow impatient of its resolutions. With some patience and a less obsessive approach to examining it this second Sinmara album developed into one of the more interesting modern black metal records of March. I can highly recommend it as an effective balance between the accessible, the aggressive, and the transcendent. For preview I’d say “Mephitic Haze” and “Crimson Stars” are immediately satisfying but my favorite tracks eventually became “Apparitions” and “Úr Kaleik Martraða”.
A titan’s absolution. 4.25/5.0
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