I can’t exactly remember how I discovered Nydvind. I suspect I picked up one of their tracks from a sampler, which came with a French metal magazine. I do remember buying “Eternal Winter Domain” (2003). I played it to myself and to anyone interested in listening to this album of haunting heathen/pagan black metal atmospheres. It was a good time as other French bands Himinbjorg and Taliandörögd were around, creating similar nature-based atmospheric music in Viking and symphonic styles. But “Eternal Winter Domain” was everything and doubtless would have been my album of the year, if I’d been preparing such lists at the time. It therefore came as a surprise to see the name Nyvind again. I didn’t even realise they were still going, but my research tells me that they released another album “Sworn to the Elders” in 2010, a few singles and now this album, which, we are told, is “the invitation to travel by the sea through the eye of a navigator”.

“Seas of Oblivion” starts in epic fashion. The seafarers chant as the atmosphere builds up. The goosebumps rise on me as a pungent rhythm strike up. The spoken word and the growls enhance the electric affair that is “Sailing Towards the Unknown”. I don’t know if I’d discovered Moonsorrow at the time I first heard Nyvind, but there’s definitely a similarity at this point with the uncompromising rhythmic line and the vocals, which have that air at once of both heroism and sadness. A reflective section keeps us on our guard. The stormy seas build up. This is important. There’s no switch but a transformation of conditions. It’s colourful, imperious and melancholic. The storm whips up and the natural forces, depicted by the swelling instrumentals, are unstoppable. Out of this comes a lofty plea, backed up by sheer majesty from the guitar department. “Sailing Towards the Unknown” is just epically awesome. It’s always hard to follow something like this, but Nydvind come out on the attack with the aggressive yet controlled “Skywrath”. “Pitch black skies, the face of death, Mother Nature strikes infuriated”, runs the lyric. Beware the angry storm. The pagan vocals play their part, but it’s rumbling heaviness combining epic instrumentals with a modern rolling black metal style, which took my breath away. This is what music should be – exciting. In comparison terms, we’ve moved away from Moonsorrow are now closer to the fire of Enslaved. And fiery this is. And the storm came in, bringing “tragedy from the sky … certain death in this havoc night in a reign of flood and fire”.

“Until The Moon Drowns” is another ten minute monster, but this time we are left hanging on to every heavy chord, as Nydvind take this weighty tale a stage further. With a mandolin-type sound in the background, the drum signals impending doom and foreboding. The atmosphere is Opeth-like but the progression is not, as the skies explode and we’re cast into a ferocious maelstrom of anger and epic loftiness, before the waves subside and the sea dies down. We now hear the lapping waves of the “Sea of Thalardh”. A haunting mantra can be heard. A mediaeval-style vocal is used to tell the tale, as the black undercurrent remains. The folk guitar and sound of seagulls signal a return to a natural seascape, as the haunting mantra and lofty instrumental accompaniment continue. “Sea of Thalardh” is like a mystical experience, but in a heavy way. “The Dweller Of The Deep” goes back to fiery basics, thundering forward at a good pace. The drums add urgency to the intensity. Of all the tracks on here, this is the most violent and crushing and perhaps the least engaging but it still has room for a spoken vocal and constant twists in the instrumental tale. The variety continues with the more pagan style “Through Primeval Waters”. But as ever at the core is a lively and catchy riff, which captures this romp through those very primeval waters. With acoustic insertions, the wise words of our navigator and melancholy, once again this is like a book that you just can’t put down. That melancholy carries forward into the narration of the last epic piece “Unveiling a New Earth”. Playing with our senses once again, the melancholic acoustic rhythm ascends into majestic emotional heights before Nydvind’s world explodes and the journey continues towards earth and uncertainty over what fate awaits them. The storm abates and there is sorrowful musical reflection.

Listening to “Seas of Oblivion” was musically the best 65 minutes or so I have spent this year. And it will go on because this album has such richness and variety that it will take me to new places every time I listen to it. The immaculate timing is perfect for alerting the senses. I confess that I’m not a great fan of pagan-style vocals, which at their worst can sound like whining and moaning, but here they are one part of a tapestry where everything fits the theme of the seas and the discovery and wonderment of their wider and overwhelming expanse. This work of great continuity and imagination is absolutely breathtaking. How do Nyvind follow this magnificence? Well, they’re going to because this is the first of a tetralogy, based on the four elements. I can’t wait.

(9.5/10 Andrew Doherty)