Immersing one in the malevolent elegance of the Icelandic unit's latest outing.
For as caustic as black metal proves to be, there are a select few that can bring the beauty out of it, like Iceland's AUÐN. Leave it to this talented six-piece to mesmerize one with radiant riffs and atmospheres, all the while battering away with sheer extremity. It's this seamless balance that makes their latest full-length, Vökudraumsins Fangi, such a captivating listen, even beyond just the music itself. Vökudraumsins Fangi, which arrived today via Season of Mist, comes complete with a wondrous cover painting by Víðir 'Mýrmann' Þrastarson, giving listeners a scene to lose themselves to. That said, the record fires on all ends and shapes up to be yet another gem that stems from the depths of Iceland.
We talk to guitarist/vocalist Aðalsteinn Magnússon on all things Vökudraumsins Fangi:
‘Vökudraumsins Fangi’ is here and after multiple listens through the new full-length, it appears you’ve managed to craft an effort that truly brings heart to the essence of melodic black metal. Now a decade since your inception, where are you all as a band compared to when this first started?
Magnússon: Thank you for your kind words. It has been a journey for us musically and personally as we’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and perform our music and, in doing so, enriching our bond and capability to create and write together. Being a group of close friends makes the creative side come more naturally. I even think we are on better terms musically most of the time than verbally. Jokes aside, the group as a whole is more stable now than we were when we first started. There‘s less tension and ideas are greeted with respect and consideration instead of criticism.
“Prisoner of the daydream,” as the album translates to in English, is an immersive listen that strays from the conventional tropes of the genre, which tends to be characterized as being a tremolo-picked riff affair. Musically, where did you look to take this record as you explore the concepts of a manufactured reality?
Magnússon: We didn’t set out with a goal in mind when we started writing. We were getting fed up with playing the same set over and over again and wanted a breath of fresh air. Decided to shake things up a bit and moved Hjálmar, our former bassist, to his native instrument on guitar and added bassist Matthías Mogensen to the fold. That change of pace was a vital factor in what we created on ‘Vökudraumsins Fangi', being able to layer guitars in ways we never did before and changing the structure of our songwriting. Musically, we delved further into what we began to mold on 'Farvegir Fyrndar', a mix of heavy and more lowkey melodic segments intertwined by more traditional black metal elements. I believe we succeeded in shaping what could be described as our own sound.
It goes without saying that the geography of your native Iceland is something to behold. How does this find a way into your musical composition?
Magnússon: Iceland‘s nature has always played a key role in our compositions. We draw inspiration from the harsh imagery of Iceland's volcanic wastes and icy peaks. Being close to the arctic, we are “blessed” with long dark winters and a short summer with 24hour sunlight. These opposites create a sense of urgency to get things done and be creative during this short span of brightness before the gloom and doom of winter sinks its teeth in. Lucky for us, I guess, the winter time is closer to home and we welcome it creatively.
If anyone can perfectly capture the atmosphere of the Icelandic black metal scene, it is Víðir 'Mýrmann' Þrastarson, who you’ve now worked with for the third consecutive Auðn cover. What can you comment on the partnership you’ve built here with Mýrmann?
Magnússon: When it comes to Auðn, yes, we are the only band in the scene he has worked with so far. Víðir and the band share a creative space in our hometown Hveragerði, with only a wall between us, and he often paints while we rehearse/write so we influence each other's works in a way. Víðir is an old friend and his paintings fit our music and aesthetic perfectly.
Like your self-titled debut (2014) and ‘Farvegir Fyrndar’ (2017), the album cover for 'Vökudraumsins Fangi' is that of a melancholic landscape, though this new one makes use of a more vibrant color palette. Visually, what were you looking for in working with Mýrmann this time around?
Magnússon: In the songwriting process, the music calls for a certain feeling or emotion, and we all agreed that these colors spoke true to those elements that we were trying to pursue on 'Vökudraumsins Fangi'. In the same vein, our debut album was a colder, more raw approach and the colors were in accordance. 'Farvegir Fyrndar' demanded a darker, more depressive vibe. We try to illustrate these emotions with Mýrmann's paintings and somehow he captures them without commission.
Was the illustration guided to fit something the band had initially envisioned or was it more a result of Mýrmann’s creative interpretation of the themes and concepts you presented?
Magnússon: A total result of Mýrmann's own creative initiative. As I explained before, we just connect with his paintings and select a cover based on what the music calls for.
Many have come to discover Auðn through your wondrous album covers. Do you recall a time when an album cover(s) in particular had that same effect on you?
Magnússon: Not one in particular, no, but some album covers demand attention and can enrich the listening experience if they speak to you. I’m not sure if it translates to every listener, but for me, our album covers are a blueprint of what the record has to offer, its colors and emotions/textures.
Iceland has delivered an incredible amount of quality black metal in recent years, with your release being another to add to a list including Sinmara, Svartidauði, Helfró, and Kaleikr to name a few. To what do you attribute this influx?
Magnússon: Long winters.
Makes sense. Though black metal in essence, each of your Icelandic colleagues differ in more ways than one, specifically in thematic inspirations and overall interpretation of the black metal sound. Is there camaraderie between you all and does it influence you in any way?
Magnússon: I think there is respect more than anything. There are bands that share members and sure, there is camaraderie in those circles, but we stand on our own in a sense that we don't share members with the other black metal bands and we never give much thought into what the other bands are doing and try to pave our own path.
And you do just that. The release of ‘Vökudraumsins Fangi’ is here and as mentioned before, it stands as your most ambitious work to date. Live shows may not be in our immediate future, but audiences will still be able to engage with the material in their own respective ways. Where do you feel that audiences will relate to the material, especially given the contemporary circumstances we find ourselves in?
Magnússon: An unpopular opinion, I‘m sure, but I enjoy the slow pace the world has been forced into during this strange time. If you enjoy good music, I think being stuck at home with a glass of wine is the perfect way to experience it until we can return to the stage.
Vökudraumsins Fangi arrived today via Season of Mist. Be sure to get your copy HERE.