It’s time for another installment of Kvltists in the Vault! This time, the damnable duo of Black Metal Daily‘s Aaron Dexter Bray and Vault Senior Editor Clayton T. Michaels. This time, they tackle Revelations of the Red Sword, the long-awaited sophomore full-length from Icelandic black metal OGs Svartidauði, which is due out on December 3 from Ván Records (preorder here). What did our IMV’s resident kvltbois in the black metal hood have to say about it? Keep reading to find out…
CTM: Okay…I need to start this one off with a bit of a confession. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve lost interest in Icelandic black metal, it’s been a while since I’ve really been wowed by anything I’ve heard from the major bands in the scene. Naðra’s Allir vegir til glötunar is the last one that comes to mind, and that came out in February of 2016. Since then, I’ve been more impressed by either the outliers in the scene–like Dynfari, whose The Four Doors of the Mind is well worth a listen (especially if you read Patrick Rothfuss)–or the stuff DG has done in collaboration with both the Mystiískaos collective (Skaáphe, Martröð) and as Death Fetishist with Ævangelist’s Matron Thorn.
That being said…thank fuck and Hail Sathanas that Svartidauði have finally dropped their second full-length. Revelations of the Red Sword is exactly the kick in the head I needed to remind me why everyone lost their shit over the Icelandic bands in the first place. So I’m just going to sit here and hang my head in shame for a minute. Oh, me of little faith…
ADB: Uhh…excuse me while I collect my jaw from the floor, and possibly call the cops or something. I’m going to assume you aren’t a fan of Sinmara or Almyrkvi then…and was Zhrine’s Unortheta before or after that Naðra? Misþyrming also had a great split with Sinmara. Holy shit, man…
CTM: Hmm…maybe I’ve missed a few things recently. With as exciting as the Swiss, Dutch, and Polish scenes have gotten in the last year or so, I just don’t have enough time or energy to keep track of everything – I’m just one dude!
ADB: I know that feel. This shit is just one big eternal game of catch up. You are spot on about the outliers, though – Iceland has been pulling out some killer gems from the lesser-knowns in the last year or two; Endalok, that Óreiða split, Nornahetta’s improv wildness, even young acts like Waal or Heift are showing promise. Vonlaus also had a great demo this year. I’m curious, and this will hopefully lead nicely into discussing Revelations: what did you think of that untitled Svartidauði EP that dropped late last year? I personally really liked it, but my fucking christ have they blown that (and everything else they’ve ever done, in my opinion) out of the water now.
CTM: I liked both of the recent EPs and their move towards more succinct songwriting in general over the last few years. Nothing against 18-minute long songs, but Revelations is certainly a hell of a lot easier to digest in one sitting.
ADB: It sure is. Yep, I love how their sound has evolved over the years. It feels like they’ve gradually turned down the carnage of their older work…or actually, perhaps that’s still the same and they’ve just added layers and depth, their fury becoming more intricate and otherworldly. Forgive me for getting a bit kooky here but listening to this album does something strange to me. Something borderline indescribable. It almost feels like it merges with my neural microcircuits, assimilating and slowly rearranging my synaptic pathways into a totally alien way of thinking.
CTM: Uhhh…you need me to like…get you some hand lotion and check back in like half an hour? I don’t mind waiting if you need to…take care of something?
ADB: Hah. Appreciated. Isn’t everything I write just an exercise in slapping the ham anyway? But yes, my favourite album of 2018 was Yellow Eyes’ Immersion Trench Reverie and that had the same strange level of indescribable-ness to it, just in different way. You know those obscure and sometimes vaguely cringeworthy words everyone loves that describe odd, poetic things like “Sonder”? I feel like there’s gotta be a word like that to describe the sensation of this album.
CTM: +5 for the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows reference. Almost makes up for my needing to give you a wank break back there…
ADB: I aim to please. Both you and myself apparently.
CTM: But…there actually is a word for what you’re describing: duende. Federico García Lorca wrote about it back in the ‘30s, and I invoked the term last December when I interviewed L.O.R.E. I’m tempted to just quote it here, but (a) it’s a bit lengthy, and (b) quoting oneself at length is hella gauche. So I’ll try to briefly recap instead:
There’s no good translation in English for duende, but it’s basically referring to a piece of art’s ability to invoke a physical reaction from an audience. Lorca basically says that it’s the result of the artist having a heightened awareness of death, and using that awareness to create something transcendent. Then he talks about flamenco dancing, which one wouldn’t think has anything to do with death. However, noted contemporary critic Brook Zern, a leading authority on flamenco, wrote that art performed with the spirit of duende: “dilates the mind’s eye so that the intensity becomes almost unendurable…There is a quality of first-timeness, of reality so heightened and exaggerated that it becomes unreal, and this is characterized by a remarkable time-distortion effect which is frequent in nightmares…A friend of mine put it like this…Time moved like that for me once before–when I was in a crashing car.”
Is that basically what you’re getting at?
ADB: It…fucking is. I KNEW you’d know what I was getting at. My man.
There are just so many unbelievably breathtaking moments for me. The eastern vibes towards the end of “Wolves of a Red Sun”? Wow. When “Aurum Lux” kicks in with a roar after that sublime introduction…the whole of “Aurum Lux,” in fact.
CTM: I think the closing duo of “Reveries of Conflagration” and “Aurum Lux” stand out the most for me because of the way that Þórir layers the guitar parts. That 90-second build at the beginning of “Reveries” is pretty damned breathtaking – if you listen closely, there are a few spots in those constantly swirling progressions that don’t line up totally at all, but they somehow never clash – and end up perfectly resolving somehow into the main riff of the song. I wish I could write and/or play like that.
ADB: Dude, Þórir has got to be one of the most underrated guitarists in black metal. Insane and understated technical ability, writes such dazzling, beautiful stuff…wonderful chords. And hows that brief harmonizing at around 4:05 in “Aurum Lux”? It’s like the best riff from “Mother North” evolved into its final, stunning form. Every time I hear it I’m lost for words.
However, here’s two words I’m definitely not lost for: Magnús’ drumming. Holy. Shit.
CTM: Before we get to the drumming, I have to mention that slow, melodic guitar line on “Wolves of a Red Sun.” Fucking chills, dude…
ADB: Oh yes. Exquisite. For a while, that was my favourite track on the album for that reason…then I realized every track is great and I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite.
CTM: As for the drumming – I’m getting to the point where I’ve listened to so much black metal that I almost weep for joy when a drummer does something besides blast. There are definitely times when blasting is appropriate, but a little bit of nuance goes a long way. For example, one of the reasons I’ve always loved Bosse-de-Nage is the jazzy approach of their drummer H., especially on his fills.
Magnús doesn’t have that jazz influence in his style, but there’s a real fluidity in his approach. One of the things I’m an absolute sucker for is when the guitars and drums are playing at different tempos – a half-time drum progression under a fast riff, double kicks with a moodier riff, etc. I love the way Svartidauði consistently pull that off on this record without it ever sounding gimmicky or like they’ve gone to the same well one too many times.
ADB: Agreed, I’m listening to it as I type and admiring that same point. It is a real feature of their sound and I could listen to how Magnús and Þórir offset each other for an eternity, I reckon. Such a complementary and creative partnership…mesmerising. It almost seems like some kind of fluke lightning strike that they’re both in the same band. As a result, there’s not a dull moment on the album, and its cup runneth over with ideas.
CTM: It does indeed, runneth over, yet it somehow never feels overstuffed or unfocused. Since Svartidauði really are one of the forebearers of the whole Icelandic scene (they formed back in 2002), I have this picture in my head of them listening to Misþyrming and Naðra and Wormlust and being like ‘that’s really cute – let us remind you all of how this is supposed to be done,’ and then delivering a musical cocksmack to the lot of them. Mushroom-shaped musical bruises for everyone!
ADB: Hahaha. So yeah, my rating is probably going to come as no surprise – I’ve been raving about this album to anyone unfortunate enough to be positioned within yelling distance for a while, and now that the full stream is available I’m genuinely happy that everyone else can finally hear the entire thing. Short of an anti-christmas miracle, this is my unequivocal album of the year. A+.
CTM: I’m not quite as enamored of it as you are – not sure it’d crack my Top 10, if I were actually doing a list this year – but it’s one hell of an album. My only real gripe (if you can even call it a grip) with it is that it doesn’t quite stick with me after I listen to it the way the Funeral Mist or Sargeist records do, for example. Aside from that slow, melodic line from “Wolves of a Red Sun,” I don’t get riffs from this album stuck in my head for hours afterwards. Revelations of the Red Sword is more of a holistic kind of listen, if that makes any sense. I’m not going to throw on one song from it in the car on my way to work – I’ll jam out to “Unbound” from the Sargeist record instead, and listen to Svartidauði when I’m feeling more contemplative. So I think it’s an A- from me.