Árstíðir Lífsins
Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn

Considering my love of folk metal and all things epic, especially the sort that deals with history and historical writings, I have no idea how the Icelandic/German trio Árstíðir Lífsins (meaning seasons of life), featuring members of Germany’s Helrunar and Iceland’s Skendod,  is just now becoming known to me. Especially when an album like, Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn (Odin and the God of the Monks) , the band’s third release, delivers such a complete, masterful package.

First off, before I even get to the music, this double CD is packaged in a gorgeous embossed case with detailed lyrics and artful medieval writings, so it has a book feel, from the Norse eddas, detailing the various stories and histories of the time taken from various recovered texts and excavations. And those lyrics themselves are sung entirely in Old Norse-Icelandic, with added Skaldic verses from the Icelandic sagas., making Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn a sonic, historical document detailing Iceland’s conversion to Christianity in the 1st century, not just a musical album. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more authentic or detailed record as this outside of  this or the band’s equally as  astounding back catalog.

The music contained on the 2 discs is equally as ambitious and deep. Using rangy, progressive and patient mid era Enslaved -ish black and traditional folk metal as the backbone, the 9 song , 80 minute affair is not easy to digest. At its forefront is the effective and brilliant use of baritone ‘wiking’ choirs that are simply stunning. They remind me of  a deeper version of Heidevolk’s vocal duo or a bunch of J. Lohngrin Cremonese’s, who sang clean vocals on Old Man’s Childs second  album, The Pagan Prosperity, (namely “The Millennium King”). Throw in some austere spoken words as some standard black metal rasps, and the vocal performance is varied and top notch.

And it’s when the band deliver these epic, majestic and somber choirs, orchestration and introspective moments where the album truly shines, taking you back in time like some sonic Jorvik museum tour, where you can smell the crackling fires and feel the chill of the Icelandic air. Whether it’s the albums opening windswept throes of and strings of the 12 minute “Kastar heljar brenna fjarri ofan Ǫnundarfirðinum”, mid section of “Þeir heilags dóms hirðar” , start of “Úlfs veðrit er ið CMXCIX” or somber closing of “Sem lengsk vánar lopts ljósgimu hvarfs dregr nærri”.

And these moments actually end up being somewhat of a pitfall for this release. They are so alluring, epic and elegant that the regular bursts of ‘normal’ black metal take a bit of a back seat, being simply overshadowed. Not that they are a forgotten element or a afterthought, but I’m not coming back to this album over and over again to hear the competently played and written form of crisp, clean black metal that starts “Norðsæta gætis, herforingja Ormsins langa” or “Bituls skokra benvargs hreggjar á sér stað” (though both still containing gorgeous moments), as the riffs really aren’t that memorable or classic, simply solid on their frosty Norwegian throes (along with EnslavedHelrunar is a decent starting point, riff wise).  I’m coming to hear expansive, atmospheric sonic poetry and the historic majesty of “Tími er kominn at kveða fyrir þér”. But when all elements are taken as a whole and the album is absorbed in its entirety, with complete focus and attention to every living breathing note, lyrics and detail, its truly special.

Though officially released in December of 2014, the album sees a full international repress early in 2015 ( along with the band’s back catalog) that ensures Aldafǫðr ok munka dróttinn will sit somewhere atop my 2015 year end list and a future landmark, arguably seminal release  as well as a historical reference for generations to come.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
March 31st, 2015

Comments

  1. Commented by: iwein

    Bold words! Now i have to check this.


  2. Commented by: gabaghoul

    stately and somber – reminds me a lot of Negura Bunget too, particularly Om. Glad you pointed out J. Lohngrin Cremonese from The Pagan Prosperity, dude needs to appear on more albums.


  3. Commented by: E. Thomas

    The New (ish) Abigor has a few clean vocals that are similar.


  4. Commented by: Jodi

    Yes, these guys rule! Their previous album is so good.


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