Ginnungagap, the latest album from doom and death merchant Seidr, is an utterly beautiful and brutal flight through the stars.
We've been gazing at the awe-inspiring beauty of the universe since the dawn of humanity, and in time we've come to understand that we're all intimately connected to the heavens above. As Carl Sagan said, we're all made of "star-stuff", but any affection in our relationship with the universe has been, thus far, unrequited. The universe is immense and inhospitable, and it doesn't seem to care about our presence at all--no matter the ties between the atoms of our being and the stars and planets overhead. That's a heavy realization, so it's no surprise that many a heavyweight metal band has explored solar systems of fantastical and/or scientific thought while orbiting that fact.
Since forming in 2009, Kentucky-based Seidr has being using Nordic folklore as one of its prime conduits to explore the human condition and our place in the universe, and the band's latest album, Ginnungagap, is named after the "solar womb" in Norse mythology that birthed our universe. The album is filled with doom, death, and black metal--and plenty of throat-scouring vocals howl into the cosmic gulf on its flight through the stars. It's an aptly spiritual, cosmological, and preternatural release too, with a strong transcendent accent.
That transcendental brogue isn't unexpected. Sedir includes in its ranks multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Austin Lunn (founder of black metal band Panopticon) and guitarist and backing vocalist Wesley Crow (from the similarly compelling Wheels Within Wheels), and both of those bands have released excellent works exploring what it means to be human among the clatter and clamor of a cold-hearted world. Seidr's debut full-length, 2011's For Winter Fire, was a mediation on humanity's close-knit physical and metaphysical ties with nature, transporting the listener to atavistic realms. The band searched for meaning in the natural world on the album, and Ginnungagap continues that quest for understanding, with Seidr reaching even farther into the cosmos for answers.
Superbly recorded and mixed by Krallice's Colin Marston, Ginnungagap finds Seidr's sonic palette evolving substantially, much like Lunn's Panopticon has done over the years. Containing six lengthy songs, and with a running time closing in on 90 minutes, Ginnungagap is no easily digested album; but then, Seidr isn't interested in easy questions either. The band doesn't look to the universe and ask, "Why are we here?" but sets out on a trail of inquiry that ponders, "Does it even matter that we exist?" The band's discoveries along the way blend an appreciation of the transience of our earthly lives with the mysteries of a colossal universe. That's mirrored by a deep and dense wall of sound, with layered instrumentation (both ambient and thunderous) bringing a sense of reverence and contemplation.
Six-string ethereality and whispered cascades make for passages of gentile introspection, while punishing eruptions of biting guitars and guttural vocals bring the ominous uncertainty we all might feel while contemplating our place in the universe. The 17-minute "A Blink of the Cosmic Eye" opens the album with mantric chanting that bleeds into a psychedelic doom and drone odyssey. "The Pillars of Creation" brings a jangle of post-metal and synth, and the death metal growls and funeral doom that arise on the song tear open a black hole of abyssal noise on the following "Ginnungagap".
The songwriting throughout the album is Seidr's strongest yet. "The Red Planet Rises" blends exquisite drones with hammer drops of monolithic riffing, and the 25-minute final track, "Sweltering II: A Pale Blue Dot in the Vast Dark", sees trance-inducing riffs and percussion build to a supernova finale. However, while all the songs on Ginnungagap are, obviously, astral in projection, they also maintain a grounded connection. The universe is clearly open to boundless scrutiny, and Ginnungagap has a correspondingly vast gaze, but Seidr's painstaking arrangements ensure that while harmonic and ambient movements transform into dark bouts of cruel and expansive noise, nothing is ever lost to the void.
Anyone seeking instant gratification can obviously listen to one or two of Ginnungagap's epic tracks in isolation, and the deathly and delicate doom on offer will provide a measure of deliverance. However, that reward pales into insignificance when you dedicate an hour and a half to the full engulfing experience. Seidr's aim with this album is clearly to take you away from the downloadable and disposable distractions of everyday life, and the band shows a remarkable sense of overarching composition, leaving room to pause, breathe, and reflect--such as on the tranquil folk of "As You Return".
Admittedly, a 90-minute interweaving exploration of our spiritual links to the constellations might seem like an intimidating, or even self-indulgent, feast to sit down to. However, constant shifts in temper keep Ginnungagap engaging, and none of its minutes are wasted on vacuous histrionics, or ego. Grim requiems are transformed through the addition of pristine and cleaner melodies, crushing riffs morph into sinuous and silken movements, and pitch-black descents are followed by crystalline ascents. All that diversity means the album provides a multi-dimensional meditation, where insights large and small, and sounds both mammoth and meticulous, are indulged.
There's a great deal of contrasting musicality poured into Ginnungagap, and plenty of weighty ideas are tackled, but ultimately what Sedir does best is balance intimacy with immensity. The band sets its sights on a forbidding universe, and for those looking to linger over portentous themes and premonitory metal, plenty of shadows await here. However, Seidr also finds comfort in recognizing that we're born of stars, and that one day we'll all return to the solar womb in some form.
In the end, it's one vast cyclical pilgrimage for us all, and Ginnungagap encapsulates the truth of that timeless journey both beautifully and brutally.