When you think of Icelandic Black metal you’re likely to think of the dense wall of sound approach of Sinmara, Zhrine and Svartidauði, or the psychedelic dissonance of Wormlust and Misthyrming. It’s a unique scene which is one of the most interesting in modern black metal, but with a country that is known for it’s beautiful but often violent landscapes it’s Auðn on their debut album who channel this into music that’s every bit as beautiful and melodic as it is stirringly powerful in a fantastic atmospheric black metal album.
Auðn’s approach to black metal usually relies on a mid-paced tempo and a pristine and clear production which leaves a lot of room for melodies to breathe and a sense of the epic to be created. The first piece Klerkaveldi is a simply wonderful opener, beginning with clean guitars, before a cold and icy tone to a meaty chugging riff and earthy bass come in alongside great vocals, the intonation to the accent with Hjalti singing in Icelandic is great, and there’s a slight raspy element which sounds a little like Immortal’s Abbath but less pronounced. The riffs get much more melodic as the track goes on with the clean guitar playing it’s absorbing tune and the meaty riffs of the lead guitar drive the song forward. The song really comes to life two and a half minutes in where everything else drops off to let a slow melodic tremolo picked riff take centre stage which combines the melodic sense of Forefather with the power of Immortal. The melody itself is beautiful but the pacing of it contains an epic sound with the major sounding progression, and the pacing of the drums is fantastic, in time perfectly with the guitars. They certainly have an epic sound, but they also seem focused on the beauty of their melodies, and the combination of the two aspects of their sound make it an intriguing listen.
From that point on most of the songs follow in the same way – with room for clean guitars, icy cold mid-paced melodic riffs that are simple and catchy, movements from that coldness to really epic tuneful sections, such as on Undir blóðmána and Landvættur. Feigð has one of the more aggressive parts on the album with fast tremolo picked riffs, intense murky bass and blastbeats but it still moves back into slower sections where they let the power of their melodies take centre stage. It’s the two tracks at the start and end of the album that are the best though, the aforementioned opener Klerkaveldi, and the eponymous closer, translating to Desolation. It’s the longest track on the album at just under nine minutes long but it makes full use of this time, coming in with a mid paced but cold and furious tremolo riff buried by blastbeats, before it relents and the trebly melodies give a beautiful backdrop for a more reserved and stirring vocal performance. A lovely slow guitar solo brightens up the middle of the track, and really summarises exactly what Auðn do throughout the album, before returning to more blasting. Over it’s nine minute length it really is an epic, with Hjalti practically howling he puts so much power into some of the verses in the second half of the song.
With it’s clean (for black metal) production and endless well of beautiful yet epic melodies it’s a change for the scene and it’s a shame Auðn is a short album at just 37 minutes long but it means it never outstays it’s welcome and is a real gem of atmospheric black metal. There’s no hypnotic wall of sound approach like Drudkh or Burzum, instead their atmosphere comes from the icy cold tone to the guitars and the power and pacing of their melodic creativity, which is damn near perfect. Highly recommended.