(In which I discuss music I foolishly passed over in the preceding year).
During the second voyage of the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin noted several species endemic to the Galápagos Islands: marine iguanas clung to rocks jutting into the Pacific. Giant tortoises hauled their half-ton bodies across the ground, and flightless cormorants relinquished the sky. These creatures are a minute sample of island biodiversity, in which isolation from other landmasses leads to the development of unique traits and adaptations in species. Far to the north, similar forces of evolution are under way on the island country of Iceland, albeit in musical form.
Iceland’s geographical solitude, combined with the globalization of black metal, has created a crucible. Within, the barriers of genre are liquified and reshaped into endless forms most terrible: Svartidauði intertwine the dissonance of French black metal with cavernous production in their own chaotic formula. Misþyrming and Sinmara bury listeners in a shroud of atmosphere, favoring texture over structure in their winding compositions.
Naðra stand out in this burgeoning scene through their focus on riffs and raw emotion. Their most recent release, the two track Form EP (April 2016), begins with dreary chords and a funerary tremolo riff that evokes memories of loss. Vocalist Örlygur’s cries soon intertwine with the guitars, and the sense of defeat is palpable as his vocal cords strain and collapse. Where depressive black metal vocals have a tendency to dwell on a singular tone for the duration of a song, he switches up his style throughout to match the story being told. When drummer Helgi galvanizes the first song “Forn” with a barrage of blasts, the vocals follow suit, growing manic in their rapid delivery, and as the guitars grow anthemic in the track’s latter half, Örlygur adopts the shout of a general leading his army towards inevitable death.
This attention to songwriting allows Naðra to explore a multitude of ideas during Form‘s brief runtime, none of which feel contrived. Eiríkur Hauksson (of Eurovision fame) lends his power metal pipes to the end of “Forn,” transforming despondency into a moment of elation: guitar (Tómas and Dagur) and bass (Gústaf) play a melodic palm-muted groove, and when Helgi switches beats from rock to polka, it’s difficult to hold back a smile.
The second half of the EP, “Fórn,” is more straightforward and focuses on the dramatic (almost baroque) guitar riffs that make up Naðra’s core sound. All throughout, dire melodies mesh with blastbeats to create a restless momentum. Tómas and Dagur have a knack for keeping tremolo guitar lines interesting; although speed-picking makes up the majority of the riffs, the moods they create shift constantly. Whether they’re flirting with dissonance or creating spacious atmosphere (as in the headbang-friendly section at 3:15), the guitars flow with purpose toward the track’s cathartic climax.
Like all organisms, bands grow and struggle throughout their time on this planet. Some will inevitably fail to adapt to their environment and face extinction; others will claw their way to the top and live to see their genes passed down through generations. Naðra is still a fledgling entity (having formed in 2008), but shows an aptitude for incorporating new sounds and ideas that bodes well for the future. For those seeking something fast, melodic and unrefined, Form is only a natural selection.