Twenty-one years is a long time to spend on a debut full-length, by anyone’s standards. But that’s exactly what happened with Ymir’s eponymous record for Finland’s Werewolf Records. A 1999 demo (Trollsword), followed by a 2006 EP (Silvery Howling) and then… nothing. Fourteen years of radio silence, while black metal fans subconsciously clamoured for pagan black metal combining the mysticism of Arckanum with the myth-and-legend fire of Immortal – which is pretty much a spot-on comparison for what Ymir has crafted here. So the big takeaway is that Ymir is worth the wait.
Being published by Satanic Warmaster’s label carries its own pros and cons: in the Finnish extreme metal paradigm, pros come up on top: here’s a well-respected, established and uncompromising artist in his own right known for his long association with both black metal and dungeon synth, so Ymir’s connection gains credibility. Outside of this cluster, however, the cons rear their ugly heads: in a world where merely posting Burzum album covers on your social media gets you banned, any association – no matter how tangential or fleeting – with nationalist leanings equals bad press. Consequently, Ymir may well experience some negative feedback from the keyboard brigade.
Black metal of this kind can arguably be seen as a contemporary skaldic tradition.
This sad state of affairs, where artists can’t be appreciated just for their art, does have one very positive outcome, though: a return to the underground. Part of the appeal of black metal is its taboo so this is an entirely understandable – even commendable – move. Artists like Acherontas have closed down social media accounts and moved back to email newsletters (not quite zines, but close enough) for focused fan engagement. While some may argue that a retreat from public presence (like social media) is bad business, within black metal the percentage of artists who actually earn a living from their creative output is so low that contemporary methods of promotion can be seen as having a negligible impact on revenues earned.
Thankfully, Ymir does not explicitly connect with any unpleasantness, so a more considerate audience, one willing to actually engage with the creative product, is unlikely to suffer any social consequences. Instead, the themes neatly fill the sword-and-sorcery mould – quite obviously expressed by the likes of “Pagan Mysticism” or “Resurrection of the Pagan Fire.” Even the title track speaks of dark and dangerous mythology, telling the tale of the Nordic titan ruling over the crumbling world of men.
Ymir does not rewrite history or break with tradition, but it’s still an engaging celebration of all things bleak and dark. While so much black metal from its ancestral home in the far north conjures images of ice and emptiness in long winter nights, Ymir adds a razor edge of violence. The snow is muddied, stained red from battle and melting in the face of sacrificial pyres desperately keeping the darkness appeased. It’s a very visual, but equally visceral album and one that whole-heartedly upholds the Werewolf Records ethos of idealism, rigour, will and power.
Ymir Track Listing:
1. Pagan Mysticism
2. Silvery Howling
4. Frostland Conqueror
6. Resurrection of the Pagan Fire
Run Time: 36:06
Release Date: November 13, 2020
Record Label: Werewolf Records