A larger sound for a classic formula comes to life in the latest release from the international folk metal trio.
Historically, the metal community has warmly embraced the introduction of Scandinavian traditional sounds to the heavy music landscape, and as more groups take an interest in bringing a cultural identity to their albums, listeners are left to ponder how far the phenomenon can go. Groups like BATHORY successfully laid the foundations where modern Scandic metal groups reside today, but in a world that is testing the waters on where Folk music fits in between the lines, fans everywhere can find a world of identity and heritage that they never knew existed. Today, we'll be taking a look at the far north, on Saga á tveim tungum I: Vápn ok viðr, the fourth full-length album from Árstíðir Lífsins.
Diving in, we're met with a blast of modern black metal in the form of track one, a powerhouse known as Fornjóts synir ljótir at Haddingja lands lynláðum. On the surface, it feels like a world audiences have grown accustomed to; driving double pedals hammer a course for a trilling, brutal riff to play up front, all while a series of growls and chants trade-off the center stage for attention. It's an unmistakably patterned war machine that takes the elements of the extreme past and brings a practiced, disciplined voice of the forefathers to the limelight, highlighting an element many folk groups often displace.
That point is doubly so in track two, a melodic anthem called Sundvǫrpuðir ok áraþytr, that shows the cream of this album. A soft acoustic passage plays to the tune of the wind, the reeds, and the waves on black sand. It's a haunting track that features a baritone, calming voice in the back, all leading to the thrumming of a single drum, and the old-world chanting that encompasses the length of the album. Fans of groups that feature similar sounds, like Falkenbach, and Wardruna, will be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Several of the winning traits of this album can be found from track to track, never far apart, in the way they are constantly withdrawing to a territory of more primal sounds within more modern vessels. It's easy to get caught humming a distinct bridge featuring a tremolo tune that sings in harmony to the sound of a duo of deep voices. It's a rich sound that rewards the listener a unique experience. On high end sound systems and headphones alike, this release is sure to make audiences remember why it is they invested in the nice stuff in the first place. It's a treat, and the production stands as a testament to how black metal can evolve to suit the time period it's created in. At their best, Árstíðir Lífsins manage to channel a kind of atmospheric majesty that seldom been seen since the days of Ulver's untouchable Kveldssanger.
The strengths, though they be numerous, are also tragically a setback on this album's course to a timeless creation. Modern production and attention to every detail leave the majority of tracks to have equal distribution of focus across the board, and it often comes out in a choppy, hazardous wave that is fronted by overwhelming drum sound, with the guitars and vocals struggling to catch up, and a bass that only stands out when the other parties are sufficiently muted. This is a tragedy, since the majority of the album is rife with a droning chorus of bass-laden, masculine choral segments that really bring out the low end of the sound spectrum. The drums, that stand on their own, are often pushed through to bring out a rhythmic section that treads inadvertently over a soft spoken verse — that, while this reviewer obviously can't translate phonetically — would prove difficult to attempt regardless, as they simply lack the concise articulation of the rest of the album. If there were a fair comparison, it could only be to Hellhammer's work with Dimmu Borgir. It's noticeably loud for no apparent reason, and occasionally threatens to bury seemingly important fragments of the album beneath a constant cannon that can't be overstated.
Saga á tveim tungum I: Vápn ok viðr is the first part of two in releases from Árstíðir Lífsins. Its sister album, a work dubbed Eigi fjǫll né firðir, will be released later in the year, continuing on from the story of (in)famous Norwegian King, Óláfr helgi Haraldsson. If the second chapter is anything like the first, listeners everywhere are in for a treat.
FFO: Falkenbach, Wardruna, Helrunar, Helheim, Galar
Saga á tveim tungum I: Vápn ok viðr leaves the nest on April 26th, courtesy of Ván Records, and you can get your hands on it HERE.