Hamferð - Men Guðs hond er sterk

Artist: Hamferð

Album Title: Men Guðs hond er sterk

Label: Metal Blade Records

Date of Release: 22 March 2024

I’ve had my eye on this release for quite some time and I’m delighted that it is finally here. I’m even more delighted with the final product, as it is just about everything I had hoped for when news of its impending release reached me here at the modest, but grandly titled Mansion Of Much Metal.

With a population of just over fifty thousand and situated in the North Atlantic Ocean halfway between Scotland and Iceland, the Faroe Islands does not come to mind as a heavy metal stronghold. However, alongside the likes of Týr, Heljareyga, and others, it would appear that there is a healthy scene on the Islands that sit within the Kingdom of Denmark. For my personal tastes, however, Hamferð is currently their best export. And this opinion only becomes stronger upon hearing the output on ‘Men Guðs hond er sterk’.

Translated to mean ‘But Strong Is The Hand of God’, this fourth full-length release from Hamferð sees the band charting new lyrical territory following the conclusion of a narrative that arced across their first three albums. This time around, the sextet chose a subject close to them, namely a Faroese whaling disaster from 1915, when a storm led to the deaths of fourteen men just off the coast of Sandvik, the home village of keyboardist Esmar Joensen.

As you might imagine, then, ‘Men Guðs hond er sterk’ is not an uplifting or bright and breezy listen. But it is a topic that suits the music perfectly. Pigeonholed as a death/doom metal band, Hamferð also lace their output with a healthy dose of melody, as well as elements of minimalism, post-metal, and even a touch of folk music. But this still fails to reference what I personally believe to be the band’s magic ingredient: emotion. It’s easy for a band to write music with dark intent, but it’s less easy for the music to actually feel authentic and full of genuine human emotion. That’s what you get here and, as a listener, you almost feel like you’re living the events alongside the band. Or, at least, I do.

Let’s take a couple of examples. Exhibit A is the opening track, ‘Ábær’ (‘To The Storm’), which wastes little time in pulling us into the harsh and unforgiving world of Hamferð. Out of nowhere come the first crushing riffs courtesy of Theodor Kapnas and Eyðun í Geil Hvannastein. They lurch, churn, and pummel, laying waste to all around, ably assisted by a robust rhythm section comprised of drummer Remi Kofoed Johannesen and bassist Jenus í Trøðini. It’s a signalling of aggressive and foreboding intent as it is, but when the vocals arrive, things get even more extreme as Jón Aldará delivers his gloriously guttural, deep growls to great effect. And then, all of a sudden, things change, and the all-out death-doom hammering gives way to a more melodic, soaring section, complete with Aldará’s clean voice, a pure, pleading fragility to it that sends shivers up my spine. The song doesn’t get any less heavy, but it does become a little more accessible. The fast-picked guitar notes offer a solemn, plaintive tone atop the thunderous storm below, whilst the keys of Esmar Joensen create dense atmosphere and real texture.

Hamferð - Men Guðs hond er sterk

By the close of the song, you’re left feeling like you’ve been through the wringer, but there’s no let-up, as each track from thereon in continues the harrowing narrative to a backdrop of some stunning death/doom metal. My Exhibit B would be the utterly pulverising ‘Hvølja’ (‘Whaleskin’) which is, for the most part, nothing short of a funeral doom dirge, with some of the dirtiest, heaviest riffs I’ve heard this year, as well as some savage vocals. However, it remains utterly compelling because of the emotion that seeps through each performance, despite the almost impenetrable sounds that escape the speakers.

I would venture that there are a couple of reasons for why this album is so emotional and authentic. Firstly, Hamferð have a pretty stable line-up where four of the six musicians are original founding members dating back to 2008. This lends itself to the creation of music where there’s an inherent understanding and shared focus. Secondly, this record was recorded live in the studio. There is no click-track, no other ultra-modern wizardry, just the six guys playing their music together in the same room.

Other highlights on ‘Men Guðs hond er sterk’, of which there are many, include the lead guitar solos within ‘Rikin’ (‘Driven’), an unexpected but welcome embellishment to an already compelling track that also sees Hamferð experiment with some of their fastest material on the record. The entirety of ‘Marrusorg’ (‘Nightmare Grief’) is an irresistible listen, too, as it seeks to blend punishing heaviness with stark passages of gentle minimalism. It’s here that keyboardist Esmar Joensen really makes his presence known, lacing the dreamier quiet sections in particular with an ethereal atmosphere. And when Aldará unleashes the full force of his clean vocals in the second half of the song, it is a sound to break hearts and convey the sadness of a nation, wracked with grief, disbelief, and helplessness. There’s something so incredibly poignant about the clean vocals, and they elevate the music to another level in the process.

As ‘Glæman’ (‘The Glow’) ably demonstrates, ‘Men Guðs hond er sterk’ is not an album exclusively intent on sonic destruction; this is a much gentler composition where subtle melodies and more scintillating vocals convey yet more powerful emotions. It’s a similar story with the glorious ‘Fendreygar’ (‘Ghosts Of The Marsh’), where pure atmosphere and emotional storytelling stands at the heart of the composition for the first half, before the heaviness ramps up later, albeit in a much more measured fashion compared with others on the album.

‘Men Guðs hond er sterk’ then ends with the title track, which is dominated by the voice of a local woman who witnessed the events of that fateful day. Despite the fact that she speaks of the miracle that one boat survived, there’s a real poignancy to the piece, which is essentially a guitar-led instrumental of simple construction, overlaid with the sounds of the sea.

As it stands, with nearly a quarter of the year complete, ‘Men Guðs hond er sterk’ is easily one of my favourite full-lengths released during 2024 so far. And it’s no surprise why, either, because Hamferð have created a record that’s heavy, raw, and aggressive whilst also being fragile, poignant, and completely authentic. The whole band deserve praise but add in the mesmerising clean vocals of Jón Aldará alongside some powerful melodic intent, and the death/doom stylings of Hamferð simply cannot be ignored. And neither should they. Do not sleep on this album, whatever you do.

The Score of Much Metal: 94%



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