The desire to associate winter with black metal is a natural one. The traditional black and white cover art is a very close reflection of the visual de-saturation of the outside world via snow and failing sunlight, and the imagery of said art is often of face-painted goons walking through the snow, or mountains covered in snow, or just a lot of snow. The music itself attempts to communicate a coldness through both a raw, unyielding production and lyrics that are often about… ice and snow and cold mountains and the like.
But there is more to winter than just frigid death, there is a stillness. This stillness is largely born of the frigid death, to be sure, as animals hibernate or migrate, trees shed their leaves to survive for another pass around the sun, and some stuff can’t move because it is literally frozen solid, but thinking of the stillness brings a different emotion from the suffocating cold. The stillness is both comforting and harrowing, a reminder that we, as Modern Humans, can largely survive the harshness of winter through our own technologies and observe it from our cozy domiciles, but also a reminder of our absolute smallness in the face of nature and the seasons. The stillness brings on a reflection of all things, from one’s innermost thoughts to larger items, and not just because seeing family around the holidays tends to stir up emotions. Most of all, the stillness of winter allows one to remember that all things will end and change. Parts of life that are good now may turn bad, while those that are blessings may turn to curses.
It is all complex, and so too can be the music of winter. In this way, Faroese doom/deathers Hamferð releasing sophomore album Támsins likam in January is not just fitting, it is basically a must. They tap into all of the stillness of winter through music that is as haunting and barren as it is uplifting and renewing. They occasionally carry the morose qualities of My Dying Bride, but never with the inevitability of open veins. They share riffs with the likes of Warning and Swallow the Sun, but without the doom-singer/doom-songwriter vibes of the former or overt catchiness of the latter. And they carry the monolithic heft and feeling of finality of the prettier side of funeral doom (think Mournful Congregation), but never communicate the impression that there is some monster lurking beneath the surface of it all.
Most of all, Támsins likam is constantly in motion, and yet feels still. Part of this comes from the barrenness of the album’s quieter moments, such as the beginning of opener “Fylgisflog,” which effectively communicates the blankness of winter (or the treeless, rocky landscapes of the band’s homeland). When the heavy doom kicks in, the song reveals another way in which Hamferð achieves this vibe: the Really Good Doom Riff. By design, a great doom riff should hold the listener in stasis, and the song’s slow-release heaviness does so through a combination of open picking and blunt force.
Label: Metal Blade.
Hamferð’s individual elements are all solid-to-stunning, but it is in their deliberate, natural songwriting where the most quality (and even further potential) is revealed. On “Frosthvarv,” the band delivers every element with such a delicate touch despite playing some of the darkest, most intense music on the album. Bits of dissonance cut through swaths of keys and deep growls, piling on layer after layer before everything is laid bare for piano. The song’s great swell creates a specific kind of suspense, like seeing a storm forming in the distance; you go to sleep knowing that you will awaken to sounds of crashing thunder, and are thankful for the disturbance.
While not every song elicits such a response, the majority of the album is crushing, crashing, emotive, delicate, and soothing. If the band is able to provide even greater nuance in the riffs and variety in the melodies without losing that harrowing atmosphere and palpable stillness, the results ought to be staggering. As it is, Támsins likam is a very good doom/death album released at the perfect time of the year. Let this be your soundtrack to frozen eyeballs staring at all the monochromatic tranquility of winter.