New from Swedish death metal band Amon Amarth is their tenth studio album, entitled “Jomsviking”.
Originating from a previous band named Scum, Amon Amarth came into being in the early 90s with a line-up of vocalist Johan Hegg, guitarists Anders Hansson and Olavi Mikkonen, bassist Ted Lundström and drummer Martin Lopez.
The group’s debut album “Once Sent From The Golden Hall” was released in early 1998. Hansson and Lopez left the band the following year, to be replaced by Johan Söderberg and Fredrik Andersson respectively. This new line-up would remain stable until 2015 when drummer Andersson departed.
Joining Hegg, Mikkonen, Lundström and Söderberg on the new record is session drummer Tobias Gustafsson.
Long associated with the Viking metal genre, the band’s material is more accurately termed death metal, or even melodic death metal, with the lyrical themes of Norse and Viking mythology and pre-Christian times the reason that the band are often labelled Viking metal.
“Jomsviking” is a concept album that was inspired by the legendary Viking mercenary order Jomsvikings who operated in the tenth and eleventh centuries. A pagan group who worshipped Thor and Odin, they would fight for whomever could afford their not insubstantial fees.
Hegg took this as his springboard to come up with a story that, written as a screenplay, eventually took form as the band’s latest and most ambitious album. The tale itself concerns a man who wants to run away with the woman he loves (who just happens to be promised to another) but when he kills the Earl’s right-hand man during their attempt to get away the woman decides not to go and so he ends up joining the Jomsvikings. There is, however, a twist in the tale…
Produced by Andy Sneap, the album was preceded by lead single “First Kill” which kicks the record off and gives an excellent taste of the sound of the whole album. As usual Sneap has done an excellent job. Each instrument is clear and punchy and the album positively shines, such is the sonic sheen that adorns the record.
Personal highlights here would include “Wanderer” with it’s Iron Maiden-esque twin guitar intro, the fabulous “Raise Your Horns” – very definitely a Viking metal tune – “At Dawns First Light”, “Vengeance Is My Name” and the closing “Back On Northern Shores”. Elsewhere “A Dream That Cannot Be” features legendary German metal singer Doro Pesch, putting in a trademark performance as the object of the protagonist’s affections.
All told, whether you want to call it death metal or Viking metal, this is a great album that stands repeated listening and is one of the best that the band have unleashed to date…
1. First Kill / 2. Wanderer / 3. On A Sea Of Blood / 4. One Against All / 5. Raise Your Horns / 6. The Way Of Vikings / 7. At Dawn’s First Light / 8. One Thousand Burning Arrows / 9. Vengeance Is My Name / 10. A Dream That Cannot Be / 11. Back On Northern Shores
In 2003 the Norwegian gothic metal band Theatre Of Tragedy fired their female vocalist Liv Kristine as a result of “musical differences which could not be bridged”. Kristine was apparently either emailed the news or discovered it when it was announced on the band’s website.
She then formed a new band, symphonic metal act Leaves’ Eyes, with the then-members of her German husband Alexander Krull’s gothic metal band Atrocity backing her.
In the years since Leaves’ Eyes released five studio albums beginning with 2004’s “Lovelorn” up to 2013’s “Symphonies Of The Night” as their profile gradually increased.
Last September saw the release of the band’s sixth studio release, that I have just caught up with, titled “King Of Kings”. Joining Kristine and keyboardist / vocalist Krull are co-founding member bassist / guitarist Thorsten Bauer, drummer Joris Nijenhuis (since 2013) and new guitarist Pete Streit. All three make up the current line-up of Atrocity with Krull too.
The record is a concept piece about the first King of Norway, Harald Fairhair, who reigned in the late ninth and early tenth centuries and is regarded as having been responsible for uniting Norway into one kingdom. It kicks off with a short but very atmospheric folky / Viking metal number “Sweven” (meaning, I believe, dream) which segues straight into the title track. Operatic vocals from Kristine, harsh vocals from Krull, heavy guitars, solid drums, orchestration and masses choral backing vocals. It’s all very Epica / Nightwish-like.
First single “Halvdan The Black” is a song about Harald’s father, and is again very Epica-like, but with a folky edge not unlike a mixture of Epica with bits of Eluveitie thrown in. Next up is the second single “The Waking Eye” which is all about dreams and prophecies and is very catchy and somehow distinctively European too.
A folky (think whistles, violins, Celtic drums etc.) instrumental interlude “Feast On The Year” then leads into “Vengeance Venom”, a Viking drinking song in essence, then “Sacred Vow”. This latter song relates to the tale the Harald, then King of the Norwegian region of Vestfold, wanted to marry Gyda Eiriksdottir, the daughter of Eirik, who was King of the region of Hordaland. She refused until such time as Harald was King of the whole country.
Simone Simons, lead vocalist with the aforementioned Epica, appears on “Edge Of Steel” and demonstrates to me that, despite the very high quality of the band, Kristine’s voice – very good as it is – just isn’t quite as special as that of Simons, though I’m sure many will beg to differ. The pair do blend really well on this song though.
“Haraldskvæði” refers to a ninth century poem of a conversation between a raven and a valkrie discussing the life of Harald, and is a gentle folky number with insistent percussion and lots of chanting, giving it a real Viking vibe. This feeling carries on into “Blazing Waters”, a battle song, but this soon gives way to heavy guitar riffing and harsh vocals and a catchy chorus. This is the longest track and features a guest vocal appearance from Lindy-Fay Hella of Norwegian band Wardruna.
There is a monument in Hafrsfjord, where the Battle of Hafrsfjord took place in the late ninth century and lead to Harald becoming King of a unified Norway. The monument is named Sverd I Fjell, which translates as “Swords In Rock”, the title of the final track of the regular album. Hafrsfjord is also, apparently, the place where Kristine was born, which gives the whole thing a real connection between the stories and the voice that’s singing them. I do think it’s great when the music you listen to then inspires you to find out about things like history too!
The deluxe edition contains two bonus tracks, the lovely acoustic ballad “Spellbound” and “Trail Of Blood”, another Viking folk metal track.
In a nutshell this is classic symphonic metal with added Nordic folk, making it something that I feel is quite distinctive from the many symphonic metal and folk metal bands around. It would go well with any film or TV epic set in the Viking era too, I suspect. Well worth a listen…
“King Of Kings” tracklist:
1. Sweven / 2. King Of Kings / 3. Halvdan The Black / 4. The Waking Eye / 5. Feast Of The Year / 6. Vengeance Venom / 7. Sacred Vow / 8. Edge Of Steel / 9. Haraldskvæði / 10. Blazing Waters / 11. Swords In Rock / 12. Spellbound / 13. Trail Of Blood
Being a big metal fan, I was inspired by the recent TV series “The Last Kingdom” to track down some Viking metal from Denmark. That wasn’t as easy as I thought it might be. There seem to be numerous bands falling into this specific genre from other Nordic countries – mainly Norway and Sweden with Finland probably coming third – such as Enslaved, Helheim and Grand Magus, even bands from Germany such as Helrunar, but I was only able to find one Danish band being categorised as Viking metal – Svartsot.
The band, whose name apparently means “black sickness”, was formed in 2005 by Danes Cris Frederiksen (guitars), Claus B. Gnudtzmann (vocals), Michael Lundquist Andersen (rhythm guitar), Henrik B. Christensen (bass) and Niels P. Thøgersen (drums) with Englishman Stewart Lewis providing flutes, whistles and bodhran.
Debut album “Ravnenes Saga” (meaning “The Saga Of The Ravens”) was released in 2007. However, during pre-production work for the band’s second album at the tail end of 2008 the entire band, with the exception of Frederiksen, quit.
A new line-up, featuring fellow Danes Thor Bager (vocals), Cliff Nemanim (rhythm guitar), Danni Jelsgaard (drums) and Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen (flutes, whistles, accordion, bagpipes) and another Englishman in James Atkin (bass).
Two further albums were released – “Mulmets Viser” (meaning “Songs Of The Darkness”) in 2010 with “Maledictus Eris” (meaning “Cursed Shalt Thou Be”) following in 2011.
Another line-up change in 2012 saw Nemanim replaced by Michael Alm on rhythm guitar and Jelsgaard giving way to Frederik Uglebjerg behind the kit.
Recorded back during late 2013 and early 2014, the group’s fourth studio album, which is entitled “Vældet” (meaning “The Well”), was finally released in February 2015.
The record kicks off with the single “Midsommer”, beginning with gentle acoustics and rim-shots before the whole band come in and we’re off into a nice up-tempo folky tune. Stylistically we’re talking harsh vocals here, akin to those performed with the likes of Eluveitie, though there are no clean female vocals to offset those.
That said, the album does feature a guest appearance from Nanna Barslev from Danish folk metal act Huldre on “Kilden – I Marker Og I Lunde” and “Ved Vældets Vande” as well as some clean male vocals provided by Alm during “Allerkæresten Min”. Nonetheless, for the vast majority of the album its harsh vocals.
According to the band’s website their lyrics concern the history and folklore of Denmark, but in terms of understanding the lyrics the vocal style makes zero difference to me as I don’t understand a word of Danish!
I do understand music though, and what I like. This is a record that I like a lot. The musicianship is of a very high standard. There are some great melodic guitar lines and solos amongst the riffing, good use of the more folky instruments and I really enjoyed Uglebjerg’s drumming – great stuff.
My favourite tracks are “”Kilden – I Marker Og I Lunde”, the instrumental “I Mørkets Skær”, “Markedstid” and the closing epic “Ved Vældets Vande”.
There is a tendency sometimes with folk metal for things to get a bit samey after a while, but I’m pleased to say that this album has enough variety from song to song, and some nice changes of pace and mood too, to make this worthy of repeated spins…
1. Midsommer / 2. Urtekonen / 3. Kilden – I Marker Og I Lunde / 4. Allerkæresten Min / 5. Moder Hyld / 6. Markedstid / 7. I Mørkets Skær / 8. Ved Vældets Vande
Wednesday 23 September – my first all-metal gig of this year. Billed as a co-headlining tour between Norwegian progressive black / Viking metal band Enslaved and Swedish heavy metal band Grand Magus, I caught the tour’s first show at the Marble Factory in Bristol.
Although the ticket (I say ticket, but it was one of those horrible e-tickets, not like a traditional proper ticket where you get the stub ripped off on the door!…) said doors at 6:30pm and show start at 7:00pm, when I arrived I heard the people in front of me being told that the doors wouldn’t be opening until 7:00pm. As it was spitting with rain I made myself comfortable back in my car and watched the queue start to form along the pavement past the next door tyre fitters.
Shortly before 7:00pm security staff appeared at the gates, and around ten minutes later started to let people through. Now a problem with e-tickets is that they are supposed to be scanned but many folks, like myself, were told that the qr code was too big to be scanned, meaning that we had to be manually ticked off a list! The upshot of all these delays was that opening band Heaven Asunder (who weren’t even listed on the bill) had started their set – probably in front of a mere handful of people!
A Bristol-based metalcore band, Heaven Asunder certainly had a few fans in attendance, making plenty of noise in support of the band. I must confess that their particular brand of metal, metalcore, isn’t really my thing but they were clearly musically tight and enjoying what they do. Guitarist Lewis Blake did look slightly like he’d dropped in from another band but I was impressed with his fretwork, even if not moved by the band’s material as a whole.
After a short break for an equipment change it was time for Grand Magus to hit the stage. I had seen this bunch previously, third on the bill when I went to see Behemoth last December.
At that time I commented that the lack of a second guitar player left a hole in their sound when vocalist / guitarist Janne “JB” Christoffersson played a guitar solo, and that is still the case.
The group, completed by bassist Fox Skinner and drummer Ludwig “Ludde” Witt, are a great band to have on a mixed genre metal bill as their material features an accessible traditional metal sound – not unlike Manowar – with lots of anthemic sing-along qualities. They perform their Viking tales with conviction and with good humour too, and interact well with the audience.
In truth, though, I found that their set tended to drag a little towards the latter stages as a result of what I felt was a lack of variety in terms of tempo and style. Still, that never hurt bands such as Motörhead, and the band went down very well with the crowd (which had filled out to a few hundred I would guess), so it was probably just me!
Setlist: (probable – I didn’t have anything to make notes on!)
1. I, The Jury / 2. Sword Of The Ocean / 3. Kingslayer / 4. On Hooves Of Gold / 5. Steel Versus Steel / 6. Iron Will / 7. Valhalla Rising / 8. Like The Oar Strikes The Water / 9. Drum Solo / 10. Wolf’s Return / 11. Hammer Of The North
1 and 11 originally from “Hammer Of The North” (2010) / 2 and 7 originally from “The Hunt” (2012) / 3 and 10 originally from “Wolf’s Return” (2005) / 4 and 5 originally from “Triumph And Power” (2014) / 6 and 8 originally from “Iron Will” (2008)
Another gear change was followed by a roar from the assembled crowd as Enslaved entered the stage, blasting headlong into the opening track from this year’s excellent “In Times” album, “Thurisaz Dreaming”.
Bizarrely, the band – led by frontman Grutle Kjellson – were only lit from behind for the whole eight minute number (and quite often throughout the set) leaving the audience looking at silhouettes of the band and lots of red lighting. Whilst this may be, perhaps, atmospheric it is somewhat frustrating to go to “see” a band play live only to spend much of the time only being able to see them in silhouette – that said, maybe the effect was better further forward in the room?…
Musically the band were excellent. Cato Bekkevold, the drummer, had some equipment problems with his kick drums which disrupted the flow for the band a little, but I imagine there are always likely to be teething problems on the first show of a tour.
Bassist / lead vocalist Kjellson was an engaging frontman and capable of some ferocious extreme metal vocals, which were offset superbly by keyboardist Herbrand Larsen’s clean vocals. Incidentally, on the small Marble Factory stage Larsen’s keyboard riser was so high that he towered over the rest of the band (including Bekkvold and his mammoth drum kit) and looked to have his head rather near the ceiling!
Guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal were intense and concentrated on producing a wall of sound from their instruments, and it’s here that I think the biggest problem with the band’s show lay (lighting issues aside). On record, particularly with the band’s more recent output, it is quite easy to distinguish between guitar parts and focus on individual elements of the band’s sound should you want to. In the live arena, however, although the bass, drums and keyboards are all crystal clear, the two guitarists disappeared into a kind of audio fog with even guitar solos getting lost in it.
That’s a shame, as on record Enslaved are brilliant. Following the aforementioned Behemoth concert, this was my second “extreme” metal gig and whilst I most certainly enjoyed it I would have to say that in terms of both visuals and musical performance the Polish black metal band produced the better show. That said, I’m glad I went to this show as, even with my reservations, it was definitely worth the price of admission…
Setlist : (again probable – for the same reason as above)
1. Thurisaz Dreaming / 2. Fusion Of Sense And Earth / 3. Death In The Eyes Of Dawn / 4. Building With Fire / 5. Ruun / 6. Ethica Odini / 7. Convoys To Nothingness / 8. Allfǫðr Oðinn / 9. Isa
1 and 4 from “In Times” (2015) / 2 and 5 originally from “Ruun” (2006) / 3 originally from “RIITIIR” (2012) / 6 originally from “Axioma Ethica Odini” (2010) / 7 originally from “Monumension” (2001) / 8 originally from “Hordanes Land” (1993) / 9 originally from “Isa” (2004)
“In Times” is the new album from Norwegian progressive black / viking metal band Enslaved.
This band are no strangers to stretching themselves musically, particularly during their more lengthy compositions – more so than many of their contemporaries.
The tracks on this album are no exception. There are a mere six tracks – but none shorter than eight minutes in length, and one at almost eleven minutes. What this means is that there is plenty of room for a variety of moods and tempos and for the band to really show what they are capable of.
Starting with the track most representative of their black metal origins, “Thurisaz Dreaming”, the band – comprising founder members Grutle Kjellson (vocals / bass guitar) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitars), together with Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal (guitars), Herbrand Larsen (keyboards / vocals) and Cato Bekkevold (drums) instantly demonstrate that they mean business.
“Building With Fire” begins with a simpler style, before adding more chaotic passages to the mix, and is followed by the more viking metal sounding “One Thousand Years Of Rain” which is the first real epic on the record, the superb title track being the other. I can imagine the material on this album would, as with a lot of Enslaved’s previous work, function very well as a soundtrack to the likes of “Vikings”.
It would be hard to pick specific highlights from this record, since all six tracks are of a very high quality and have plenty to offer the listener – with lots of variety of style and pace without straying too far from the black / viking metal foundations – but if pushed I would probably go for “Daylight”, “In Times” and “One Thousand Years Of Rain”. In terms of the sound of the record, the individual performances and the material presented, this album is excellent. It is a progressive metal album in the truest sense and one well worth immersing oneself in.
“In Times” tracklist:
1. Thurisaz Dreaming / 2. Building With Fire / 3. One Thousand Years Of Rain / 4. Nauthir Bleeding / 5. In Times / 6. Daylight