Friday 27 December 2019

Andvaka - Andvana (2019)

Country: Iceland
Style: Funeral Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 Nov 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives

The holiday season tends to be a happy time of year for most, whatever name they give it and whatever faith they follow or don't. Most, of course, means not all so here's something for the rest of the world that isn't happy right now. What Andvaka do is described as funeral doom, melancholic doom or post-doom, depending on where you look. They don't sound happy but they do sound very good indeed.

I have no idea who's in the band, but they apparently include members of the Icelandic black metal band Zakaz, whose musicians all go by roman numerals, just like the tracks on this album. I guess they really want the music to do the talking, which it does. It's not much for a couple of minutes, just slow dirge tones, but then it kicks in with vocals and everything has perspective all of a sudden because that's not the voice I expected.

Initially, this sounds ritualistic, especially when the tones add a hypnotic feel three minutes in to Partur I. According to their Facebook page, Andvaka means "spirit invocation" and I can feel a primal spirituality here. Over on their Bandcamp page, this album is described in religious terms as a "three-part series of hymns". Certainly, there's a reverence to the chanting, as if the band members are monks. It's too dark to suggest Gregorian doom, but the thought isn't too far away during the midsection.

Partur I ends with melancholy and the realisation that eight minutes went by surprisingly quickly, given how slow the music is. The last couple are quiet guitar and what sounds like a distant echoing harpsichord in a sweet duet. I love contrast and this is a very light section compared to the darkness that came before, with not only that ritual chanting but also a section of death growls in the middle.

Partur II and Partur III both revisit some of the same territory, but at an even slower pace. If Partur I is clearly doom, Partur II is clearly funeral doom. It's achingly slow for a long while and that includes the vocals, as if the whole thing was recorded at 45rpm but I'm playing it at 33rpm. I did realise that i we sped it back up, the few fast changes would sound insane! Partur III starts out with a gorgeous slow ritual groove.

I enjoyed this, as a sort of antidote to the whole Christmas spirit. I can't say that I'm unhappy nowadays but this gave me a break from the particularly forced happiness that Christmas requires from us. It's great mood music for a very different mood and, by that, I mean a sort of dark spirituality. It's as full of inherent beauty as it is of crushing sorrow. Listen to it in the dark, reflect yourself in it and enjoy forty minutes when you don't have to smile at everyone else.

I'm a little at a loss as to why it's divided up into three parts. None is a particularly coherent third of a whole, though the long gaps between each of Partur I, II and III underline that that's how we should see it. None of the thirds feels entirely like one piece of music: there are still movements and interludes and wild changes in each of them. They're also not remotely close in length, lasting eight minutes, eleven and a half and well over twenty, so it's nowhere near balanced.

Even though I don't know why we get the three hymns that we do, I like this and it's presumably a musical departure for those involved. While this does offer nods to depressive black metal, it doesn't ever really go there, being content to take doom metal as its base and create something new out of it. I wonder if there are other spiritual doom bands out there building a movement of sorts. This one hails from Iceland but there's something quintessentially northern about it and I could imagine Russian bands creating something like this out of doom metal and Eastern Orthodox ritual. Let's dig.

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