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This is not black metal and what is “viking metal” but an ambiguous commercial term that defines sucky folksy rock-based music with later metal techniques and viking themes? I mean, it´s not a separate genre or subgenre, so what is Hammerheart? Let me describe the music: in essence this is slow to mid-tempo heavy metal played with the techniques and distortion that Bathory used in earlier albums, the production is raw and the guitar tone sounds abrasive. Rhythmically they no longer bash the shit out of everything but slow down to hold a simple beat to mantain your attention while cymbals are used for dramatic purpose. Percussion goes from tribal rhythms to a constant walking pace or a slower but violent Bathory style stomp beat.The voice is sometimes raspy sometimes cleaner sung that show theme variations and the mood of the song; together vocals, percussion and choruses make this music sound a bit like opera at times in its explosive moments. The songs Valhalla and Home of the once brave, are similar to Enter the Eternal Fire of the Under the sign album in its narrative composition, but the difference is that here the pace and rhythms are simpler and linear to give way to the dramatic elements that make this music both “viking” and epic but are perhaps too dependant of the vocal parts. The best song here is One rode to Asa Bay, it is a musical mourning of sorrow for the loss of a better age, a deep concern for this dying age devoid of culture and traditional wisdom, it is all lost nothing can be saved now. The ideas behind the music are both tribute to Nordic Culture and Quorthon´s conclusion that the world as it is now is fucked up for good, it is resentment, anger and hopelessness; the viking themes are metaphors to express those ideas, which is why I don´t think this is “viking metal”.
For those who haven´t listened to this cd, you can appreciate this music in two ways: 1- like well done heavy metal/rock that visits the first generations from its progenitors to the bulk of heavy metal makers with a refined sense of narrative tempos and “feeling”. 2 – like a narrative semi-soundtrack of rock melodramatic storytelling, like a theatrical musical play. However perhaps because it´s too much heavymetal in structure the “theatrical” elements simply do not blend with the music but float like superficial decorations; although the intent of the music might have been profound, you understand the emotions like given instructions but not “feel” them.
My final comment is that despite the sincerity of the music where other “viking metal” bands are pure gimmick is that if you listen to Bathory´s discography in one single day with Bathory – Bathory you get excited, with The Return you get shocked, with Under the sign you get satisfied, with Blood Fire Death one gets fucking blown away and with Hammerheart well... let´s just say that it´s hard to say goodbye to satanic Bathory. I´d say this is a good album because it shows the epic side of heavy metal with vivid artistry, intelligence, class and emotional integrity.