Reykjavik, Iceland’s Audn are back with their second album ‘Farvegir Fyrndar’ and are marking their debut outing with the ‘Season of Mist’ label. It looks as though ‘SOM’ saw potential with the band’s self-titled album released in 2015 and their subsequent upward momentum with an appearance at Wacken Open Air’s Metal Battle a year later, then following up with the Inferno and Roadburn festivals earlier this year. A new label deal and major festival success aside, has this follow-up album managed to continue the momentum they have enjoyed so far?
Kicking off immediately with a percussive intro and the sound of a dull, muddy distortion on the guitars, opener ‘Verold Hulin’ plays out instrumentally for almost 3 minutes before introducing Hjalti’s extreme vocals, whilst the drums pick up a ferocious pace. Sonically, the top end frequencies appear to have been filtered out, resulting in a muffled, muddy output.
Blasting straight into an unwavering, relentless blizzard of harsh black metal, ‘Lifvana Jord’ features scorching vocals performing over fuzzy guitar refrains and brutal drumming. A standard, fairly predictable melodic structure played ad nauseam, it’s a somewhat forgettable track. Again, the mix is muddy and unfortunately this plagues the rest of the album too.
On a positive note, ’Haldreipi Hugans’, the longest track of the album, is a real grower. The lead guitar melody is memorable and has an earthy, pagan-folk feel to it, followed by ’Prisund’, which is highlighted by a guttural, primal vocal style and the eerie, unnerving bend of the guitar strings. The latter track sounds intently ritualistic and feels like there is some sort of esoteric ’calling’ being carried out within the music. Similar to ‘Prisund’ is ‘Blodraud Sol’, which appears a couple of songs later and has almost identical musical characteristics, acting somewhat like a companion track. I particularly enjoy both of these songs – they each have a standard running time of around 4 minutes making them great playback tracks on their own or back-to-back.
For the most part ’Ljosaslaedur’ is cold and bleak until the third minute when the drums thunder and vocals roar in a chaotic cacophony of sound, the bass and lead guitar melodies the only elements holding everything together. Continuing the desolate theme, a beautifully bleak intro opens ‘Eilifar Naetur’ with a cold, atmospheric guitar arpeggio, before crashing head-long into a whirlwind of blast-beats, crashing cymbals and those now very familiar scorching vocals, but without dismissing melodic structure in the form of some fantastic bass and lead guitar work.
Leading towards the close ‘Skuggar’ is a slow-burner, kicking of with powerful, pounding drums and a bleak, sorrowful lead guitar riff. The song progresses slowly as both the pace and the mood picks up. By the final third, the track has transformed into something altogether powerful with a measured, defiant outlook.
Closing with ‘I Halmstraid Held’, the listener is treated to a sweeping, panoramic soundscape that takes over by the mid-point, as the lead guitar cuts through the mix with an unwavering sense of optimistic flair.
Considering ‘Farvegir Fyrndar’ is the band’s debut with a respectable label in ‘Season of Mist’, the production on the album lacks clarity and is far too muddy for my liking. The musicians themselves clearly have some wonderful ideas they are laying down on this release and with serious concentration it’s possible to lose yourself in the swirling, darkly hypnotic musical motifs, but that’s the problem for me – it takes a great deal of effort to get there. It’s not a lack of quality musicianship or song-writing ability, it’s simply because so much is lost in the mix that it’s difficult to latch on and focus on specific elements.
Had this album not been hampered by poor production, I’d have no hesitation in scoring it highly. But the issues are hard to ignore, so regrettably it has negatively impacted on my final rating.