A deeply-personal exploration of awe-inspiring, cosmic Black Metal, Almyrkvi represents the singular, interstellar vision of Sinmara guitarist Garðar S. Jónsson, whose music under this moniker traverses vast, unfathomable gravitational corridors to the deepest, darkest and most inhospitable recesses of time and space. Perched precariously upon an infinitesimal dot, rendered utterly irrelevant beneath the ominous gaze of innumerable mighty celestial bodies observing from afar, indifferent to our plight, we discussed humans’ susceptibility to the whims of an omnipotent cosmos, the probability of extra-terrestrial life, nature’s inherent chaos, the otherworldly allure of the aurora borealis and, for good measure, grand nebula pulses.
According to scientists / mathematicians, there are up to ten times more stars in the observable night sky than there are grains of sand in all the earth’s deserts and beaches. It’s extraordinary and utterly incomprehensible to think that so many stars exist, with new ones continuing to be born. Our solar system – located in the Milky Way galaxy – orbits one of these stars: the sun. While the solar system is vast, it’s no more than a tiny speck within the cosmos as a whole. Contemplating such unimaginable scales could make you feel very small and insignificant. For all of mankind’s achievements (and failures), isn’t the reality that we are virtually nothing within the greater scheme of things?
“It’s a weird thing to think about, indeed, simply for things like the Fermi Paradox, which hints that it is essentially impossible, given the colossal size of the universe, for us to be alone. Then you have The Great Filter – the invisible (and unknown) force that could wipe intelligent life out – serving as a barrier or threshold possibly preventing any potential of us progressing technologically beyond a certain point. That might very well mean that potentially we could be the only race that has reached this current state of technology. Or even that for our race – being so prone to self-destruction through warfare and cruelty – it could be possible that our technology hasn’t yet progressed to its fullest potential and thus hasn’t reached this state of becoming our personal ‘great filter’. For example, we well know the a-bomb’s destructive power; it has been developed considerably further since it was last used in warfare, so if at any point those new bombs were to be used we could potentially wipe out our own being.”
While the vastness of the universe and the infinity of time and space can make us feel inconsequential, humans – and all lifeforms on Earth – are nevertheless also highly significant and decidedly fortunate. We’re certainly in the right place at the right time and the window of opportunity is limited. Apparently, if the 4.54-billion-year history of our planet is mapped onto a 24-hour clock, humans arrived at around 23:59:59. We’re very lucky to be here…
“Indeed we are, and the very thing that sustains our life – the sun – could at any moment decide to send us a direct solar flare and wipe out our tech and potentially our race. Or a rogue asteroid might hurtle into our planet. I think the fact that we continue to avoid this fate makes us very, very lucky.”
Do you believe there is other life out there somewhere else in the multiverse? On one hand, we don’t know for certain that the unique conditions required to develop and sustain intelligent life have ever existed in any other time or place. Some would contend that it’s an unthinkable, nigh-on-impossible fluke for a habitable planet to form within the goldilocks zone of one of these stars and then for life to actually begin there and evolve and flourish. But, having said that, there could be 100 billion planetary systems, so the odds appear to be good that we are not alone?
“I do. Since the universe is borderless and endless, I couldn’t fathom that we’re the only ones. And, furthermore, there is the possibility of our own universe potentially being one bubble of many in the great ocean of space … in this case, I seriously doubt that – out of all these universes – the only one intelligent race that has emerged is ours. It’s also weird to think that since we’ve been broadcasting radio signals as a staple since they were discovered, that other intelligent beings have not caught onto those. Perhaps their tech might be something even more alien. And our next-door, alien neighbours have no way of communicating with us since their means of communication might be something totally different.”
I’ve noticed that one of the central themes of Almyrkvi’s music seems to be the cosmos, nebulae, black holes and space in general. This is very evident in the artwork, the song titles (‘Forlorn Astral Ruins’, ‘Fading Hearts Of Umbral Nebulas’, ‘Stellar Wind Of The Dying Star’, ‘Pupil Of The Searing Maelstrom’) and the lyrics. I believe Almyrkvi is the Icelandic for total eclipse, so there’s a fitting dose of darkness at the heart of the music too. Can you remember how it was that you developed such an interest in astronomy and celestial objects? Also what is it about space and the cosmos that appeals so much to you? And why did you decide to establish with Almyrkvi an entity focussed solely on this vision, separate from your work with Sinmara and Slidhr? Is this a more personal / intimate journey?
“I think almost all Black Metal projects tend to touch upon these topics in one way or another. But for Almyrkvi, I wanted to focus on something more personal and something I have a burning passion for. But I also wanted the lyrics to be fluid enough to be interpreted into a wider array of topics. They do speak of personal experiences often, but in the guise of cosmic themes.”
Cosmic / space themes have always been popular in Black Metal (and most styles of music), from Emperor to Darkspace, Blut Aus Nord to – one of my personal favourites – Voidsphere, to mention just a handful that spring readily to mind. It’s also a recurring topic in science fiction and movies. Would you feel more inclined to listen to a record or watch a movie if it was about space?
“From a young age I’ve been quite a lot into sci-fi. Be it movies, books or any other form of media, sci-fi is usually my favourite flavour. I’ve been quite fascinated with the whole concept of star travel, which is pretty much what ‘Pupil Of The Searing Maelstrom’ is about. In short, the possibility that if you were to actually survive a trip through a black hole, it might propel you to another point in space and time. And what might await you there…”
People are always searching for meaning and pondering the origins of life but maybe a lot of the answers can be found in space. The Big Bang theory of large scale evolution, the constant birth and death of stars within nebulae, throw in a huge dollop of time, chance and pot luck … and life emerges through a series of random interstellar events that are more to do with physics than the existence of god or any creator. Surely it’s abundantly obvious that we are all of the stars; we come from there – from stardust – and that’s where we’ll return. We’re of the cosmos… If the Earth is our home, then so too is the universe, all of it…
“I agree. As Carl Sagan put it: ‘We are made of starstuff’. I don’t consider myself a very spiritual or religious person, so in my mind it’s pretty absurd to think that we’re not of the cosmos. That’s not to say that there aren’t more powerful forces than us out there. Look no further than into the sky at daytime and you will see a blazing globe of fire that could at any moment decide that our whole race shouldn’t exist anymore.”
Personally, I like to look at the sky sometimes on a clear night. It’s a nice way to gain some perspective on things and to de-stress. Although, the sky is usually all cloudy here. Do you spend much time observing the stars and constellations? Do you ever use a telescope? Is there any particular phenomenon up there that you are especially attracted towards or enjoy? Also, does Iceland give you a particularly good vantage point to see the magic? I know you can view the Northern Lights well from there … I’ve never seen them, that must be amazing?
“They are a common sight here, since the light pollution is fairly mild. You can even see them in the sky in our capital city. But, obviously, to enjoy them in their full grandiosity, you’d want to be in the countryside. The most vivid I remember seeing them was actually for my first promo shoot for Almyrkvi. They shone in many colours and I was lucky enough to capture a few photos of them during the shoot. I used some of them for the layout, but ultimately decided to have the layout in greyscale. But I am also happy that when I released ‘Pupil Of The Searing Maelstrom’ on cassette with Stephen [Lockhart] for his label, Oration, we went for the full colour version, so they can be seen there. However, pictures never do the aurora full justice.
“I can’t really make my mind up with regards to a clear preference from any of the other phenomena up there, though. Orion and the Horsehead do come to mind, and I’ve always loved the Eye of God, too … so much so, that there’s one of my songs written pretty much specifically about that nebula. I’ve also used pictures of the Eye on various promos for the band. While I do enjoy my share of stargazing, I’ve not yet invested in any sort of telescopes to gaze even further.”
Something that strikes me about everything that’s going on up there is that, with so many objects moving around in what one would expect to be random, chaotic directions, there appears to be an unexpected order to things. So many planets, moons, stars, meteors, asteroids flying about, supermassive black holes lurking everywhere devouring all within reach – yet not the carnage you would expect. It must be tumultuous but it looks stable, calm and peaceful gazing up from Earth. I sense that there’s a strange order to things in space, like everything is governed by the laws of physics. Nature is in control. But meanwhile here on Earth: total chaos! Would you agree?
“Not really, everything up there is total and utter chaos, as nature intended it to be. But I think the main difference is the density. While people experience events at a certain rate and things happening in rapid succession. I think that’s exactly what’s happening up there, but at such a slower, vaster rate so that we down here can perceive it as calming and predictable. Like when you think of an asteroid belt, you’ll probably think of it as shown in movies: a really chaotic and unpredictable zone of deadly hurling rocks. Whereas in reality the space in between each rock is usually enormous. And if you were to traverse between them on a vessel it would be far from the chaos shown to us by Hollywood.”
Earlier in this cursed year, Almyrkvi released a brilliant new split LP with The Ruins Of Beverast. One of the two TROB songs is called ‘The Grand Nebula Pulse’ – is Alex a kindred spirit, then? Finally, have you been working on any other new music over the past few months? Anything fresh on the horizon from Sinmara? And how much are you looking forward to getting back out on the road and touring again if and when the worst of this pandemic eventually passes, as all things do?
“Thank you for the kind words. I was quite adamant about the themes I wanted to work on for this split. I didn’t want this to be a typical split like you’d see with a lot of bands, where there might be nothing linked in between the bands and the concepts in the lyrics would be completely on each band’s terms. I generally strived to make an album with another band. When I approached Alex with the idea and concept for the split, I told him that I was still going to try to bend the concepts to fit into the sci-fi niche that I’ve carved out for Almyrkvi. So I guess he did as well. But I believe, if the concepts hold true, that ‘The Grand Nebula Pulse’ would be the rebirth of the universe as, according to Norse mythology, it would have happened after Ragnarök. So, without trying to put words into his mouth, I believe this to be the faint sign of life re-emerging after the destruction of all.
“Sinmara always has something in the works. We currently have a lot of material on the table but nothing that’s fully ready at this point. I have a love / hate relationship with touring and gigging: while I absolutely love being on the stage, the clinical side of getting onto the stage really drags on me. I am of course excited for this whole thing to blow over and to get back on the road but, at the same time, I’m also content with just staying at home writing more music.”
Live photos credit to Void Revelations