Album Title: Access All Worlds
Label: Metal Blade Records
Date of Release: 26 February 2021
Oh my goodness, here’s a find and a half ladies and gentlemen. And the fact that this review comes a good week or more after its release will tell you just how close I was to missing this album altogether. Normally, when I get an email from the PR peeps who serve Metal Blade Records, I sit up and take immediate notice. But not this time and to be honest, I’m not totally sure why. Actually, that’s not quite true. Firstly, I wasn’t sold on the artwork, which I thought was a little ‘spacey’, possibly a touch out-there. And when I read the first few lines that mentioned 70s space rock, I read no further, discarding the opportunity to investigate further.
Turns out, if I’d carried on reading, I’d find out that Iotunn was nothing like 70s space rock. But it wasn’t until I was prodded by a loyal reader of this site that I realised my mistake. This may have been the opening aim for guitarist and founding member Jesper Gräs back in 2009, but over the years, and with the input of other musicians along the way, ‘Access All Worlds’ is a completely different beast. And what a beast it is. This has a little of everything that I like in my heavy metal diet these days. Brutal death metal, progressive constructs, epic ambition, a cosmic-inspired grandiosity, and tons of melody. So much melody. At times, it is such a beautiful listening experience that you momentarily forget just how heavy this album actually is, and how proggy some parts are. It’s as if Iotunn have found a perfect blend of all these elements. The extreme metal head will find enough brutality to enjoy, the lover of technicality will be able to geek out at the complexity, and everyone else will get sucked into the majesty of the hooks and the melodies that bathe this music in their warm embrace.
‘Access All Worlds’ is, incredibly, the debut album from Iotunn who have grown into a formidable quintet comprised of Gräs alongside fellow guitarist and brother Jens Nicolai Gräs, bassist Eskil Rask, drummer Bjørn Wind Andersen, and vocalist Jón Aldará. And, whilst the entire band impress and leave me open-mouthed in admiration, Jón Aldará requires a special mention. The Barren Earth and Hamferð vocalist not only delivers a commanding, deep growl for the blasting, uncompromising heavy sections but he is blessed with an incredible clean voice as well that accentuates the melodies and the celestial feel of these deep and thoroughly engaging compositions. Essentially, Aldará helps to elevate the music several notches from an already lofty position.
Normally, I will comment a little negatively about an album that extends beyond an hour in length. However, on this occasion, the seven songs that hit the 61-minute mark are fully deserving of their length. I’m hard-pressed to identify any extraneous fat that would require extraction, with each track bringing something fantastic to the listener, something slightly different, but equally fascinating and essential to the overall album.
I’m equally hard-pressed to pick out highlights on ‘Access All Worlds’ because of the consistency of the quality on display. However, it wouldn’t be a ‘Review of Much Metal’™ without a closer look at a selected song or two.
The title tracks spreads across eleven minutes and it offers a great example of one of the big strengths of Iotunn, namely the lead guitar solos. The album features many wonderfully melodious and beautiful lead solos, but one of my favourites is nestled towards the end of ‘Access All Worlds’. The enormous composition, which starts out as a full-on heavy progressive affair with atmosphere by the bucketload, settles into a groovier mindset as it develops, with chunky riffing and commanding drumming getting the head moving in appreciation. But the addition of the solo turns the final couple of minutes into a truly stunning affair, so full of glorious melody and joie-de-vivre, uplifting in the extreme, despite the overall context of the music which wouldn’t normally be classed as ‘uplifting’. Aldará’s voice reaches for the stars but the wailing, pleading guitar notes takes us far beyond and back again, my head back, eyes closed and in rapture the entire time.
That being said, the solo within ‘Waves Below’ pushes the title track close. It rears its head in the central portion of the song rather than the end, but its impact is no less impressive. The smooth, meliffluous nature of the solo is enhanced by further melody surrounding it, the bass guitar and the drumming playing particularly important roles as the guitar shifts tempo effortlessly, from slow and deliberate, to faster and more urgent. The entire section is magical thanks to the majesty that it oozes from every pore, before the song almost imperceptibly reverts to its more extreme origins and a return to those brilliant growls, whilst retaining melody within the inspired riffing in the process.
Speaking of the extremity of the music, ‘Laihem’s Golden Pits’ deserves a mention at this juncture. At just shy of five minutes in length, it’s the shortest composition on the record, but it displays arguably the most bite and muscle. The opening salvo is blistering with fast riffs and relentless drumming touching warp speed at points. And yet, despite being a snarling beast of a track, there are hooks aplenty to draw the listener in, whilst it’s the perfect track to dispel the myth that to be epic, a song needs to be a longer, more drawn-out affair. Not here it doesn’t.
I could also wax lyrical about the gorgeous clean, picked guitar melody that opens a slightly melancholier ‘The Weaver System’, or the enormous near-14-minute closer ‘Safe Across the Endless Night’ which only serves to underline just how talented these Danes are, as their abundant technical abilities and sense of clever ambition almost go unnoticed because of the deftness of the material that they deliver from beginning to end.
I cannot believe that I nearly let this superb album slip through my fingers. With ‘Access All Worlds’, Iotunn provide me with a little bit of everything that I love about heavy music. It is technical, complex, atmospheric, engaging, melodic, and, frankly, magnificent. There’s nothing else I feel the need to say, except buy it, listen to it, love it.
The Score of Much Metal: 94%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: