Review by Fernando on April 16, 2023.
Icelandic black metal has had its fair share of acclaim this past decade, and has also had a massive impact in the world of black metal, even if one of its main pioneers, Svartidauði, is no longer active, the scene and the sound lives on, especially in the volcanic island far towards the north. And one of the bands who continue the legacy of Icelandic black metal is Altari and their epic debut record Kröflueldar, released through Svart Records.
By their own admission, Altari play Avant-Garde black metal that’s on the same realm as its posterboys, Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord, and their Icelandic compatriots, while also boasting an eclectic mix of inspirations from classic heavy metal to post-punk, Gothic and even psychedelic bands like Killing Joke, Sonic Youth and the Cocteau Twins. Now, I’m not ashamed to admit that the other style of music I’m passionate about is indeed post-punk and goth music, so these inspirations did tease my interest, and while it is somewhat glib to boast highly about one’s influences as Altari do, I can safely say that those boasts and reverence for the fringes of alternative music and underground extreme metal, are actually warranted, because Altari did something truly unique and forward thinking with Kröflueldar.
First, some disclaimers. It goes without saying that Altari’s music is the definition of inaccessible and cryptic to a fault, some metalheads will absolutely detest the droning and psychedelic atmospherics presented here, and the alternative crowds will be repelled by the demented vocals and relentlessly intense performances. Kröflueldar sits on its own fringe. And with that out of the way, this is a truly outstanding record, as Altari perfectly blend the darkness and vitriol of black metal with the psychedelic mystique of mid to late 80’s post punk for a truly unique and fresh sound. The only bands that come to mind when listening to this record are Oranssi Pazuzu and Wormlust, and even then, neither of those bands sound like each other in the slightest beyond the blend of black metal with psychedelic and Avant-Garde music.
On a more technical level the band also succeed in blending technical precision and ominous melodies with sheer brutality. The biggest standout is the drumming and the guitar work, since the band name checked Sonic Youth and Killing Joke for their promos, expecting masterclass drumming and layered guitars was warranted, and Altari delivered in spades. For the guitar work the band focuses on ambiance and disharmonious melodies, and they also add some groovy and thick riffs which are then layered with noise, feedback, and the aforementioned melodies, with the drumming and bass rounding everything with pure precision. It's really hard for a lot of the more experimental black metal bands to successfully cross pollinate black metal and push the limitations of the subgenre, and Altari certainly feel like a post-punk band playing black metal, and vice versa, it is a perfectly balanced blend that’s better explained by simply listening to it.
Overall, this is a truly outstanding record that displays the best of both worlds the band wanted to explore, and at under 40 minutes, this is a very compact experience. My only disclaimer is indeed to have an open mind, because, and again, the record isn’t interested in retreading any grounds, nor is the band interested in placating anyone’s palette but their own, and their music in my opinion is all the better for it.
Best tracks: ‘Kröflueldar’, ‘Leðurblökufjandinn’, ‘Hin Eina Sanna’, ‘Vítisvilltur’
Rating: 9.2 out of 10473