MISÞYRMING – Með hamri (2022)REVIEW

Black is the wind on their heels as they taunt the false, bashing their shields with hammers in hand. Our protagonists find purpose in the merciless, vengeful artes of colosseum yet their mayhem arrives with a true warrior’s code in mind. The blood-jetting constellation of holes which Reykjavík, Iceland-based black metal quartet Misþyrming leave in skull as they unveil their third full-length album is yet decidedly not the work of a barbarian caste. A physical yet precise act, impossible to perform or experience without writhing in chest-clenched Bacchic state of empower, ‘Með hamri‘ bursts forth from bloodied teeth and hands with vigorous and engaging purpose yet the aspect of bard within is not at all suffocated beneath the cruelty of their warrior-poetic statement. Rest assured that, at the bottom of the heap where you belong, you will be mourned.

Misþyrming is the enduring broadside of musician D.G. who’d formed the entity circa 2013 beyond formative work in Abacination and nearby the impetus of Núll, wherein development of guitar techniques, distillation of influences, and their own vision of sound design made for what many consider a classic of Icelandic black metal and one of a handful of Fallen Empire‘s defining releases. This should not suggest that the band should be defined by ‘S​ö​ngvar elds og órei​ð​u‘ (2015), though, as the elaborate, adventurous streak of that album was etched in capture of time and place rather than a self-branding ceremony. The stirring folken melodicism of ‘Algleymi‘ (2019) was a triumph in so many ways, a feat almost entirely removed from the hellish tunneling reverberations of the band’s debut. It came as a shocking leap, packed with ideas the listener hadn’t been privy to prior, revealing the rapid rate of evolution, the trial-and-error, occurring behind the scenes. Many artists shed unconsidered work like feces and call it a body, Misþyrming thus far allow the echo chamber to reach flesh-melting resonance before letting loose. That is to say that ‘Með hamri‘ appears equally built in reaction to ‘Algleymi‘ as much as it is a grasp upon a different current of inspiration.

Reges Snæland dominabitur. — The dreamlike, sentimental yet rapturous hum of 2016-2019 era Misþyrming sheds its itinerant modern rock beats and atmospheric/melodic black metal poisoned tip for the brute head-charge of thrashing mad heavy metal to kick off ‘Með hamri‘ and it is nothing short of a screaming firebrand reveal up front. The black-thrashing charge of the title track/opener isn’t necessarily late 90’s Desaster in terms of ancient hall-haunting classicism, the initial run-on thread grooves in and out of body a la ‘Absu‘ circa 2009 to some degree, thought it is notably as immediate and concise as D.G. has been with his rhythm guitar work to date, at least in this project. Maniac laughter, sky-parting synthesizer gloom, and a fist raising plateau ~3:26 minutes in provides just enough of a moment to gasp for air as the piece blazes through its final salvo. The margins between the opener and its triumphal counterpart, “Með harmi”, is set with a brief but baked in dark ambient interlude which allows the conversation to continue with just enough separation of intent. Every moment considered, as expected, yet this time all arrives with immediacy, palpable conviction.

It goes without saying that “Með harmi” is the key frontispiece for the full listen as it brings a striding almost Quorthonian epic heavy metal pulse to D.G.‘s guitar work, though the artist suggests earlier Manowar as at least part of the ruthlessly superior classic heavy metal attitude which this record intends to portray. An eight minute piece which feels about half as long due to the tuneful conviction it brings, it’d almost feel on the nose if not for the extended cold machine pushed black ambient section that follows. The vision for the record seems to accumulate enough to identify here in a few key ways. First, it is an entirely continuous running order which leaves no room for interruption, piecing its own segue into the footing of each song. Second, the setting reads to me as black metal survivalism in the post-apocalypse wherein the band intend a balance between severity, unconditional aggression yet balances it with a charged and triumphal tone. Up front this is achieved through bludgeoning yet Misþyrming do not lack in expressivity and detailed forms despite a seeming (comparative) economy of rhythmic statement for effect.

Foreboding Roman-appropriated officiate architecture as presence, cold-swelling Scandinavian skies in atmospheric backdrop, and Eldritch iron gates forbidding all entry the cover art, provided once again by Manuel Tinnemans, for ‘Með hamri‘ pulls us away from the personalized initiation event of ‘Algleymi‘ to a gloriously hidden institution. This is fitting enough per the feeling the band intend to convey, lining up with their thus far serious aesthetic and representing shelf presence somewhere in between ‘Sin after Sin‘ and ‘Synarchy of Molten Bones‘. The frontispiece in the illustration appears to be modeled after the Academy of Athens, depicting the birth of Athena, though I cannot speculate if that’d merely been reference material or sourced with purpose of statement. At the very least it is a striking, memorable image one needn’t analyze to be hit with on some basal level.

The most substantive points of interest on the full listen for the average black metal rhythm guitarist will be found betwixt the merciless dirge of “Engin Miskunn” and the wasteland hymn “Aftaka”, the axe at the end. If we can stay blind to the affirming, outsized appeal of the melodies found on other pieces these two songs in particular speak most directly to the development of D.G.‘s own style of composition as threaded through Misþyrming‘s discography, still bearing some of the muscle memory of past works for those willing (or just inclined) to dig into the details of each phrase. I’ve some preference for the ominous, hanging strides of “Engin Vorkunn” otherwise, wherein the reprise of certain synth and deeper set layers build a scene set in an oily night, an army yet to spill down a ravine. That fourth song paired with the deathmarch of “Blóðhefnd” especially highlighted the full listen for my own taste and helped to emphasize exactly how different this record is from anything the band had done prior while still managing some of the voice and tic of the artist in hand.

Though there’d been some earnest hit of sorrow felt upon learning Svartidauði ceased this year the silver cord of drummer M.S. has integrated into Misþyrming with spellbinding results, a precise and impactful performance presented in an open space, setting the listener in the tenth row of a mossy concrete theatre. The production values share some reasonable parity between several guitar channels, elegantly boosted leads, and a vocal presence compressed in the distant middle right in front of the drumkit. This is somewhat more realistic compared to past releases; sound design, gaining a bit more warmth than ‘Algleymi‘ when all performances are firing in line. We do not get the full living tone of the bass guitar per tenets of black metal but it is not necessarily buried down to a rattling in the dark; The use of keyboards (horn fanfare, etc.) is likewise set beneath the swarm of guitar tones in most cases yet just as vital to the success of each piece graced. Dark ambiance and interludes regularly chill the warmth of this otherwise greying tonal space, removing the human residue from each event without killing the momentum any given piece creates. I’d found this’d regularly inspire repeat listens, not wanting to interrupt the impeccable work put into each song.

It would be foolish to suggest that I’d any specific expectations going into this experience if only because I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from a third Misþyrming album, especially alongside the suggestion they’d be hailing their hammers high for it. The already considerable standard of quality sustained throughout every aspect of their previous work is ultimately usurped here, though, a most vivid hand-crafted result which does not feel artificially voluminous nor does it lose the sophistication available to past works. The full listen would end up endearing, empowering and memorable to the point of uncountable listens primarily because ‘Með hamri‘ is easy to pick up and enjoy while still offering enough of a challenge to incite deeper listening. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (97/100)

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Með hamri
LABEL(S):Norma Evangelium Diaboli
RELEASE DATE:December 16th, 2022

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