Með Vættum

Written by: EW on 23/11/2014 20:06:57

My recent live endeavour with Icelandic folk merchants Skálmöld (in support of Arkona and Eluveitie In London) was everything I expected from numerous listens in the build-up to their third album "Með Vættum" - an epic, bouncy, easy-going and light-hearted ‘viking’ metal affair in a formula pretty much made for live enjoyment. The little concern given in the band’s music for pushing on the boundaries of the genre is very noticeable in the pleasant demeanours of all six members on stage and promotional band shots (think less long hair and viking/heathen clobber, more short hair, glasses and coloured clothing) but, of course, most importantly in the music, where tracks like "Að sumri" make even the most melodic of modern Amon Amarth tracks seem underground in comparison. Consequently there is only so highly I can rate this album amid the glass ceiling that will limit their overall impact in the genre but it doesn’t mean I haven’t had fun with these eight tracks of late.

While the magnificent cover image perhaps over-emphasises the epic qualities of the 50 minutes of music contained within - this is hardly Bathory’s "Hammerheart" let’s be honest - there is still a broadness and sense of scale to the mid-paced compositions that Skálmöld utilise through vocal variations, carefully structured rhythmic flows and occasional outbursts of folky mannerisms, done as if to keep that element of their fanbase in check. Blessed with a clean, chuggy sound that displays absolutely none of the genre’s black metal heritage (a point I’m sure that will be divisive for more conservative fans) you will find the lead guitar lines in tracks like "Að hausti" and "Að vori" stick like blood to a sharpened sword from first airing, vying to outdo the choral vocal lines which rival even follow North Atlantic dwellers Týr. This twin pairing has been a big factor in the rise of Týr through the ranks of folk orientated bands out there but while Skálmöld do not hammer out quite the same number of chanting sections they should be commended for the diversity found in their song structures. Take the closing trio, “Með jötnum" finds time for a significant period of ‘acoustic’ vocal lines before storming back into life for a relatively tense finale, "Að vetri" displays considerably greater verve with an upbeat tone which will appeal to all fans of Ensiferum and the likes before "Með griðungum" pours forth the closest we get to any black metal-tinged riffing in 9 packed minutes of unpredictable vocal lines and tempos pulling in from Solefald to Heidevolk. That the closing sections to that track take on an unexpectedly sober direction with their slower pace and cleaner vocals is a bit of a surprise given what preceded, but it does leave no doubt of the band’s willingness for musical adventures, albeit safely within the broad established boundaries of folk and viking metal.

It is a pity I have no information to aid in an interpretation of track titles or lyrics, as there is no doubt something to be said for the pattern of cyclical tracks titled "Að…" and "Með…” which for all I know probably form a nice narrative through the album. As it is I am left to ruminate on the eight tracks which collectively are a bit too safe in execution for my personal desires but which show a great deal more personality than many other stringent bands out there who lack the wherewithal to combine this modern production style with a better-suited, more rhythmic form of songwriting. If the softer end of the ‘viking’ metal genre is of greater interest to your tastes then may I point you in the way of Skálmöld’s "Með Vættum" and it’s proud and noble foray into happy northern climes.

Download: Með drekum, Að hausti
For The Fans Of: Týr, Amon Amarth, Svartsot
Listen: Facebook

Release date 14.11.2014
Napalm Records

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