Icelandic force Altari reimagine black metal’s weird boundaries on numbing blast ‘Kröflueldar’

Photo by Olafur Pálmarsson

Black metal long has been changing despite the kicking and screaming from those who want to keep this savage art form in the dark ages. You still can find plenty of the traditional stuff and bands that remain steadfast in that dingy basement aesthetic, but you have a wealth of artists pushing the boundaries that never should have been there in the first place. Afterall, lawlessness doesn’t thrive under rules.

Icelandic force Altari certainly have black metal as a base, but on their debut offering “Kröflueldar,” they prove their concoction contains so much more than that. Smeary and psychedelic, twisting and disfiguring, these seven songs feel like alien creations in a way. The band—I can’t find a reliable lineup but I do know from the promotional materials that Ó.Þ. Guðjónsson handles vocals and guitars, K.R. Guðmundsson plays guitar and also created the album’s artwork, and their ranks contain members of Sinmara—stretches into punk, noise, atmospherics, and spacey strangeness, drilling your senses without mercy, forcing you to realize the black metal planet has changed forever, and it’s either adapt or perish.

The title track opens in drums sprawling, guitars utterly disorienting, and the howls defacing after seemingly emerging from a fog. The playing dizzies as the roars punish, things spiraling into a vortex and coming out transformed on the other side, washing over with numbing melodies and ending in weirdness. “Djáknahrollur” delivers smearing guitars and howls that stymie, crazed calls barreling uncontrollably toward you. Everything spirals as the storming drubs, bringing spiking electricity that makes your nerve endings ache. “Leðurblökufjandinn” is spindly and atmospheric, the growls lurching as the menacing devastation goes for your skull. The playing suddenly liquifies, turning into alien form, heading into the clouds before dissolving into the stars.

“Sýrulúður” enters amid warped sounds and horrified cries as Gyða Margrét’s singing adds interesting textures to the overall atmosphere. Mysterious and icy, the lush and strange playing mystifies, and everything folds into the clouds and is swallowed whole. “Hin eina sanna” has riffs that engage from the start, warping as the howls echo, the immersive pace leading you into the mist. The playing is entrancing and feels like it infects your mind, the pressure mounts, and then it opens into a vast experience, bleeding into the background. “Vítisvilltur” enters amid trickling guitars and pastoral chants, and then the howls gut, wrenching calls stretching over top. It feels like your body is freezing in place, a strange feeling washes over your mind, and then the guitars melt, creating a glistening metallic river. Closer “Grafarþögn” slowly forms, blackness oozing from its cracks, the leads glistening and mixing with boisterous cries. Gothy tones get heavier as melodic streaks bloody the waters, detached howls making your ears sting as the strangeness plows through and drains into the unknown.

Altari definitely have black metal DNA which is evidently apparent on “Kröflueldar,” but it’s just as clear they did not have desire to do things based on any rules or expectation. The approach and expanded sound make for such a refreshing listen, and the band gets inspiration from so many different sounds and philosophies and works them into their recipe. It’s safe to say you won’t hear another black metal record this year quite like this one, and it’s another example that the best way to create this type of sound is to defy its rulebook.

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