Whenever I hear about a new folk/viking/pagan metal band, I always approach their music with a healthy dose of skepticism. The market is packed with this type of bands, with many of them doing what they do just because it’s a trend or the easiest way to get somewhere in the industry: add a violin, an accordion, a bunch of other instruments not even a music teacher can name, cheerful folk or humppa melodies, generic metal guitars and just hope that everyone will like it. So Börn Loka, Skálmöld’s second album, comes as a huge relief.
Börn Loka (the children of Loki, in Icelandic) is a very versatile album. The only time I was so excited while listening to a viking metal release was when I first heard Tyr’s Ragnarok. The difference between the two is that Iceland’s Skálmöld takes a more aggressive approach to writing music, greatly influenced by 80’s thrash, NWOBHM and a pinch of 90’s black metal. There are a lot of Bathory-inspired epic parts present throughout the record. The guitars pay tribute to early heavy metal, through great riffs and especially the solo guitar works (the album is full of amazing Maidenesque harmonies). Each track is a unique experience, without a a single filler. The record does not sound dull or uninspired at any moment, and this is most likely due to frequent mood and rhythm changes: from the epic feeling and drunken sailors’ sing-alongs of “Váli,” towards the more Gothenburg-style track, “Fenrisúlfur,” or the upbeat and thrashy number, “Gleipnir,” just to name a few. Other key factors crucial to this album’s epicness are the amazing choir, keyboard and orchestral arrangements, like in the aforementioned “Gleipnir” and the final track “Loki.”
The only two weak points of this album are the vocals and the production. There is nothing wrong with the harsh, aggressive vocal approach, but clean vocal melodies are definitely more suitable for this type of music, which is evident in “Fenrisulfur “and the epic “Midgardsormur.” The production could have sounded slightly cleaner as there is a lot of noise in the final mix, but this definitely does not ruin the overall impression too much.
To sum it up, this is an album you should most definitely own. Once you do: grab your drinking horn, fill it with ale, and hit repeat over and over until you’ve grown a viking beard. This is an inspired record with a lot of influences, mixing various genres into a great blend that has an amazing epic feel to it from the beginning until the end. Skálmöld is definitely a force to be reckoned with, and Börn Loka is one of the finest examples of this genre.
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