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25 Oct 2010

Review: Elhaz Othala Eihwaz (Aldrlag)

Elhaz Othala Eihwaz
Independent release, 2010

It is no easy thing to capture the atmosphere and spirit of early 90’s Norwegian black metal, let alone imbue that (now all too often stale) aesthetic with vitality. Elhaz Othala Eihwaz, Aldrlag’s very limited edition demo/album, represents the most convincing attempt at such a feat that these ears have heard in a long time.

Perhaps it is the deeply considered idea behind the band: no crass Satanism or one-dimensional pseudo-Heathen posturing to be found here. Instead, a musical exploration of the deeply Heathen notion that the horizon of death is the condition of a meaningful life. Going beyond mere existentialism, this is a journey to a place where by embracing the shadows of our own vulnerability we transcend them.

Such reflections are potent, dark, and straight from the heart, so it’s no surprise that such  creative vision would inspire excellent music. From the hypnagogic opening, through to raw acoustic clatter and all-conquering black metal onslaught, the entire release is drenched in atmosphere and emotion, naked honesty.

The mid tempo black metal that makes up the majority of the album is artfully composed, a decisive illustration of the distinction between “simple” and “elemental.” The sparse, yet subtly woven layers of guitars, lo-fi drums, and vocals (which are as blood curdling as those of Burzum himself) paint a harsh and abrasive sound image with a sonic palette of charcoal, blood, smoke, and bone.

If for the old Heathens death was the occasion for great journeys then this album evokes the spectral terrain of the world of the afterlife with great immediacy. Inexorably we are drawn deeper and deeper into the pits of darkness (and paradoxically, of life), digressing in eddying, tranquil pools along the way. And yet, as with the beginning, the release concludes with airy beauty, hinting (though far from promising) that perhaps on the other side of the veil all wounds will be healed and all life renewed.

Ultimately this is the genius of this release: the ambivalence of the subject matter, the tension and angst of the guitar work, stretches the listener between contrary feeling-states – misery and reverence, weariness and determination, suffering and spiritual integration. Mournful, wistful, resolute, the journey of these songs dips into something deeply morbid, and yet something…beautifully human.

Presented in an incredible package – blood-stained, rune-carved wood, not quite the thing one expects from a newly arrived CD – this is an impeccably crafted musical document. I encourage you strongly to follow this band’s trajectory – there’s something special here that very few in the realms of black metal are able to tap.

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