Two years ago, Icelandic one-man metal project Ljáin released Endasálmar and Klofnar Tungur barely a week apart, on the 16th and 25th of July respectively, to little acclaim or fanfare from the music journalism world at large. In an effort to rectify this grievous oversight, they have recently re-released both EPs as a compilation album. The reasoning behind my choice of words – “grievous oversight” – is thus: when chatting to recording artists, it’s not uncommon for them to come over all starry-eyed when discussing the warm, fuzzy ambience a plugged-in Fender Telecaster lends a studio. Ljain, conversely, must have had access to an anti-Telecaster when recording these albums, because there is nothing even vaguely warm anywhere on these seven compositions.
What there is, however, is a masterful selection of icy, bleak, nerve-searing desolation, served up in a format that feels more classical than contemporary: rather than viewing the individual pieces as tracks, they translate better as movements in one greater symphonic offering of utter wretchedness. This overall ambience of despair becomes clear when you consider HV Lyngdal’s other musical involvement, though – specifically his membership in Martröð. He is also one half of the Icelandic ambient black metal project Wormlust, but Ljáin is obviously his pet project, the one he pours the majority of his scorn and anguish into.
Stylistically, both albums follow the same approach as each other – unstructured, organic blackened noise, deeply textured and densely layered in a swirling maelstrom of chaotic guitars, frenetic drums and tortured, rasping screams. The closest comparison I could suggest would be early Blut Aus Nord (specifically the Ultima Thulée album), but even this excellent record doesn’t carry the same emotionally draining impact as either Endasálmar or Klofnar Tungur. Both compositions are more harrowing, more lo-fi explorations of abyssal existential angst that combine the rawness of proto-black metal with the soaring, enveloping atmospheres that contemporary production allows.
Sample the album with a stream of the single “Svartigaldur” here.
Repeated exposure to the recordings – after the initial shock wears off – conveys deeper insights: the choral elements that are employed (throughout “Eilíf Ðjáning”) or pure electronic noise (the introduction to “Hlekkir Holdsins”), alongside contrasting elements of utter peace (see the bridge section of “Með blóði þínu”) all serve to better emphasise the scorched-earth assault of the main body of work. Taken holistically, the entire effect is one of untamed, primal ritual – a paean to violent gods demanding nothing less than the absolute eradication of hope.
Endasálmar og Klofnar Tungur is as far from easy listening as you can get, but it is rewarding and cathartic and, dare I say it, quite beautiful, in the same way images of urban decay  and abandonment can be. Any black metal fan worth their salty corpsepaint should delve in.