Árstíðir Lífsins live and die by their lofty ambitions. The band’s third studio album, 2014’s Aldaföðr ok munka dróttinn, spanned 80 minutes of sweeping black metal juxtaposed against acoustic neo-folk, choral chanting, string arrangements and spoken-word interludes. At its best, that album recalled Enslaved circa Eld. At its worst, the overused dialogue stunted momentum and some of the folk sections meandered. So while the double disc was thrilling at times, it would have been more immersive if the band hadn’t been led by their elaborate concepts on Scandinavian mythology. Heljarkviða, featuring two songs across 40 minutes, reins in ÁL’s sprawling tendencies while also working with another engrossing theme: a depiction of the Old Norse kingdom of Helheimr, where slain warriors rot eternally.
By writing succinctly for this ancient tale, the dramatic black metal passages retain the requisite bite, the atmospheric embellishments enhancing the metallic movements rather than lessening their impact by frequently downshifting mood. Accordingly, Árstíðir Lífsins have never sounded as compelling.