Pagan Metal bands are legio out there, from ENSIFERUM over AMON AMARTH to ARKONA and TÝR, to name just these. But Iceland also has its bands in this lyrical genre, as SKÁLMÖLD proves. The debut album, “Baldur”, was originally released in december 2010 by Tutl Records, but Napalm Records saw the potential and offered to release the album worldwide on the 29th of July. The Tutl and Napalm versions differ by two bonus tracks on the Napalm one: “Baldur” and “Kvaðning (Edit)”, which is a shorter version of “Kvaðning”.
SKÁLMÖLD, the name apparently being an old Icelandic word used to describe the (bloody) conflicts between the biggest Icelandic families in the 13th century, was formed in the summer of 2009, its members coming from different musical backgrounds, both Metal and non-Metal. As said before, the lyrical aspect is based on Norse mythology, but is said to follow “the strict rules of traditional Icelandic poetry”. The concept album tells the dramatic turn of events of the Icelandic Viking, Baldur. The story begins in a time of peace when Baldur, a wealthy man, has just settled down. He has much land, a loving wife, and children. Yet disaster strikes, when a demon-like creature not-of-this-world brutally attacks his peaceful existence. His home is in ruins and, worst of all, his family dead. Finding two of his men, Gunnar Jarl and Grímur, still alive, Baldur swears revenge. Fighting their way across the harsh Icelandic landscape, the three never lose sight of their goal… a final battle against their sworn enemy. But victory comes with a prize: a prize Baldur is more than willing to pay, even with his life.
Aðalbjörn Tryggvason of SÓLSTAFIR contributed with guest vocals for the songs “Árás” and “Hefnd”. A translation of the track titles can be found on Metal-Archives.com, as follows:
“Baldur” begins with a hymnic song, “Heima”, in which a man takes the lead, while a children’s choir follows in a next instant. This then makes way for an adults’ choir. This sounds epic and very touching. A great track, which doesn’t need any music to accompany it. The attack (“Árás”) begins with a guitar intro, where drums and keyboards are added to both tension and power. Slow, folky hymns follow before the band goes into higher gear with hoarse, roaring vocals. Before the chorus kicks in (incl. group singing for atmosphere and context) there’s a nice transition in the form of wind. Nice to see the band added nature samples to make the song more alive. The Folk aspect is also present in the guitar leads. All in all, a job well done. So is “Sorg” with its acoustic intro, which later makes way for slow, melodic Metal. Again, quite hymnic and very nice melodies. The group singing adds to the greatness to this track. But there’s also enough room for instrumentality (incl. the organ). The atmosphere is rather dark and you can be sure this ain’t a song about the birds and the bees.
“Upprisa” brings us humpa Folk Metal with organ leads. It’s an energetic song and musically perfect to have a drink, so to speak. Think of KORPIKLAANI, but in a rougher version. The whole slows down, but adds more power in the chorus. The aforementioned hoarse, roaring vocals are of course present again, throughout the album. The music here is varied in terms of speed, rhythm, melodies, atmosphere and even breaks, which reminded me a little of e.g. MANOWAR or POWERWOLF. After a while the music grows in volume and power before reverting back to the chorus compositions. All things considered, hats off for the Icelanders. Then comes “FöR” with an intro that predicts fast Metal. And yes, the music comes pounding out of the speakers then. This is powerful stuff! The chorus has dual vocals, both the roaring and clean singing, creating a nice contrast. Halfway there’s a break with (again) marching drums, in preparation for breakdown-like part, excellent to headbang to. But somehow this track was less to my liking than the others.
“Draumur” is an interlude that is full of danger. A crying baby, a cat not feeling at ease (if that’s a cat).. something evil’s ahead. The backing chanting with the organ enforces that feeling. The very Folky “Kvaðning” (which returns at the end in a shorter version) then is set in with the oboe and percussion., after which the whole band joins in. The vocals should have contained a bit more growling, as this kind of singing would have fit better here, in my opinion. The melodic, instrumental piece in the middle is a very nice addition, after which the song grows in power, energy and speed. Another song well done! “Hefnd” is another hymnic, rhythmic Folk track, somehow reminding me of MOONSORROW. The organ leads again, while the guitars and drums are the providers of power and rhythm. There’s a screamy middle part with Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s guest vocals, I presume, and the guitar following suit. All this connects neatly with the chorus and rest of the song.
“Daudi” is set in with the oboe. For those not knowing this instrument, see Wikipedia (click here). The organ lingers in the back and then the music takes off, with Metal all the way, slowly growing first, but then hell bursts loose! The vocals, yes, the same as before, start to annoy here. Honestly. Variation at this stage would be nice, but this kind of singing is no different than the other songs, so you could easily interchange it between the tracks. The music, however, is very good and gets more epic in the last part. Which brings us to “Valhöll”. You cannot write pagan lyrics and not mention the famed Valhalla. The hymnic singing here is very well done and comes out really well. It sounds similar to what TÝR has done in the past. The drums offer backing support, while the oboe provides leads. Another highlight of a track, indeed. “Baldur” is closed with the epic and long (almost 11 minutes) title track. And epic start changing into a midtempo power ball! The music is heavy and of course powerful, containing varied singing. The last part is where you get group singing again (perfect for this kind of song) with drums and slow music. Wonderful!
So, a new Pagan Metal band has risen from the underground. SKÁLMÖLD have done a good job with their debut album, “Baldur”, combining very nice music and an interesting context. In addition, it’s nice to have another band singing in its mother tongue, as it gives the material that extra touch. Hopefully the English translations are in the booklet or available online. The production is well done, the music comes out really well, but in the vocal department it would be nice to have a bit more variation in terms of growling, roaring and what not.
More info at www.skalmold.is.
Björgvin Sigurðsson – vocals, guitars
Baldur Ragnarsson – guitars, vocals
Þráinn Árni Baldvinsson – guitars, vocals
Gunnar Ben – keyboards, oboe, vocals
Snæbjörn Ragnarsson – bass, vocals
Jón Geir Jóhannsson – drums, vocals
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