It’s no easy feat to produce a record that stays faithful to the Viking label without bringing the listenership crashing back to earth when it comes to the realities of music tinged with medieval influence. Amon Amarth have done a great deal of good with opening people up to the wondrous world of horned helmets, battles, halls of mead chugging, red-bearded warriors and ships sailing across the oceans towards to the distant lands of Valhalla. Enslaved twisted the vision a bit, adding some dynamic and less romanticised ‘myth’ to the sound. What we have here on our hands with the latest LP from Arstidr Lifsins record however, is the sound of genuine, long, dry storytelling, with the sounds of Scandinavian folk mixing beautifully with the aggressive brand of metal the band have chosen to present.
Titled ‘Saga a tveim tungum I: Vapn ok viðr’, which translates to ‘history of two languages I: a weapon and a wood’, this is the first of two epic records to be released by the group this year, and true to the style of old Icelandic sagas it is a long, detailed, at times frustratingly slow, but ultimately intriguing in it’s detail affair.
Sung entirely in old Icelandic (‘cos folk metal, people), it’s hard to completely take in the concept, which centres around the political turmoil that tarnished the rule of famous Norwegian king Ólafr helgi Haraldsson in the eleventh century, but the atmosphere is certainly alive.
Ranging from brutal, slamming blackened metal slabs, such as 90s trve era (but with way better production) influenced Morðbal a flugi ok klofin mundriða hjól, to calm breezes of arctic air on the choir-led Siðar heilags bra sólar ljósi (The Sacred Bridge of the Sunset) there is a plethora of sound presented here that takes quite some time to digest. For every brutal track there is a light, classical accompaniment that feels like a welcome calm in the bloody storm that Arstidir Lifsins have whipped up here. Case in point is the wonderful, balls-to-wall opener Fornjóts synir ljótir at Haddingja lands lynlaðum (Ancient sightings of Haddingja country’s thugs), dropping seven minutes of blast-beats on us like a Darkthrone-flavoured bomb- and then followed up immediately with the beautifully tender acoustic number Sundvǫrpuðir ok araþytr, complete with an ambient soundscape of gentle seas, windswept plains and tasteful spoken word storytelling. From the chaos of battle to the cold, dark nights around the fire, your imagination will be working overtime here.
The centrepiece of the record is the double epic of Líf a milli hveinandi bloðkerta and Stǫng óð gylld fyr gǫngum rafi, both clocking in at over 10 minutes and presenting the full plethora of the Arstidir Lifsins sound. In these two songs the entire essence of the review can be summed up; things are incredibly creative and inspiring, yet sometimes they run for just a bit too long. However, this desire for fat-trimming might just be a natural reaction to the very nature of what Arstidir is trying to achieve, being long form, challenging story telling that gets the audience to think. Both tracks take a fair amount of processing, but both have their clear musical arcs, full of chanting, choral passages and acoustic movements, scattered between blasts, thunderous kicks and shrieking vocals.
Closing with the epic, ever-changing 15-minute last stand, Haldi oss fra eldi, eilífr skapa deilir (Keep Us From Fire, Eternal Strife), one can’t help but admire the scope of what the band has attempted here. Conjuring up some truly ancient sounds and throwing them together in epic songs that don’t aimlessly move from riff to riff, but rather attempt to paint a complete, coherent picture, Arstidir Lifsins truly move against 21st century convention and make you wait for the goodness. In a world where bands like Deafheaven and Alcest can be at the forefront of creative heavy sounds, Arstidir Lifsins certainly have their place in the metal vacuum. With records this dense, both musically and conceptually, it takes time to appreciate, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
You can purchase the album here.