Our immediate health need is to conquer the virus that has been ravaging the globe. Yet in the midst of vaccinations, some scientists are speculating farther, trying to unravel the key to eternal life. This quixotic pursuit bridges history and fable: cryonic chambers, the Fountain of Youth, the Holy Grail, the Lazarus Pit. “Would you really want to live forever?” sings Alphaville. Medical advances have sparked conversation: What if?
Viktor Orri Árnason has been fascinated with this idea for years. His career to date has unfolded “behind the scenes” within a community of eminent composers. Eilífur (Eternal) is his coming-out statement, a grand entrance that immediately launches him to the upper ranks. Truthfully, it would have been hard for him to go wrong: he plays most of the solo instruments, conducts the Budapest Art Orchestra, and weaves his theme throughout a suite that seems tailor-made for modern dance.
While some might have curved the topic to the darker side of sci-fi, Árnason tilts toward the realm of the spirit. This preference is apparent in the bookend pieces, “Var” and “Var-Er,” where choral voices surround drone-like textures like a shroud. As the orchestra enters, the voices rise in hope and exaltation. “Var-Er” is described as a dialogue between father and son about the tug between “the now” and what is to come. The irony is the use of choral elements, typically associated with churches, to describe a scientific goal that mimics an eternal, spiritual plan.
The first half of the album unfolds like a modern opera, embracing both organic and electronic elements. The voices grow quieter: reverent, even awed. Eternal life is uncharted territory, the province of gods and myth. On “Maiden,” the orchestra begins to take control, and the effect is sublime. The strings sing of eternity without words: the somber beauty of a stolen gift.
But then something changes. Just as one has begun to interpret the suite as one sort of animal, it becomes another. Gone are the darker tones, like the shedding of a mortal coil. The tempo begins to pick up in “Faultline,” easing in and out of the frame, trying on new skins. Rising from a piano base, “Nectar” is the obvious choice for a second single in an album not built for the mainstream; the length and accessibility are invitations to delve into the project as a whole. When the violin melodies emerge, all fear of life extension dissipates. The immortal body stretches its newfound wings. In the end, the album returns to the beginning, another ironic choice because there is no longer an end, only the vast eilífur. (Richard Allen)