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There's something about good folk metal that always allows us to feel a strong connection with the interesting planet on which we live. Personally, I've spent the past week or so wondering why that is, as Sweden's King of Asgard certainly fits into the above description. It is noteworthy that Quorthon himself, the godfather of folk metal, had already helped spawn an entirely new genre we now call black metal. That was 1983. Almost 30 years later, there remains an interesting fusion between these two genres. The traits that help define both of these genres are not mutually exclusive; however, it's extremely common (musically and lyrically) to see folk themes arise in black metal and vice versa. These seemingly conflicting genres have now been feeding off each other for a number of years and have continued to push metal to new emotional heights. After listening to Fi'mbulvintr, I'm convinced that the elements of both folk and black metal will continue to aid in the progression of the metal community as a whole.
The introduction and following three tracks of Fi'mbulvintr initially come off as sounding quite generic. Luckily, it's a bit easier to be patient with a freshman release; especially fun, whole-hearted folk metal such as this. After all, this is a band's interpretation of stories that many pagan cultures still hold sacred, even if they're not taken to the literal extreme that's all too frequent in other practices. Towards the end of "The Last Journey", however, Karl Beckman lets out a terrifying wail...one that could probably only be trumped by Ville Sorvali of Moonsorrow. From that point, Fi'mbulvintr stops acting like an album that only makes you want to listen to other folk metal bands. That's quite an impressive feat, and one that this powerful three-piece (which includes members of Falconer and Mithotyn) should be quite proud of.
King of Asgard might have been shy with the initial tracks they chose for the forefront of Fi'mbulvintr, but the lead solos and melodies in "Never Will You Know of Flesh Again" demonstrate the powerful songwriting potential that the band has. The blast beats continue to intensify, as the background vocal chants and crushing riffs of the rest of the tracks begin to melt (or in this case, freeze) your eardrums. While Fi'mbulvintr may not quite give the listener the desire to constantly revisit, it certainly has the endurance necessary to leave quite a few frosty gashes in your subconscious. Not to mention, it's catchy and emotional, which brings me back to my opening statement...the musical elements of black metal help allow the overall concept of the album to become terrifyingly vibrant.
There's something about good folk metal that always brings out the child in us. Although we're now living in a different time, the longing to fight against all forms of oppression and to enjoy and respect nature in its purest form remains constant. Fi'mbulvintr, although not the most original of folk metal releases, still gives me the desire to acquire the type of honor in hopes that forgotten ancestors and perhaps even Quorthon himself will greet me at Valhalla's gates once my journey is through. For that, I commend King of Asgard, and I urge fans of the genre to give them a chance.
Originally written for MetalReview.com
Straight from the upper reaches of northern Europe, where dragon boats once set to sea for glory and plunder comes yet another flock of stalwart bards seeking to tell the same old tales in their own unique way. Boasting a band name as audacious as King Of Asgard might seem a bit pretentious, but this is a band that can actually live up to the title and cross battle axes with the likes of Amon Amarth and Ensiferum at an equal footing. Led by the charismatic barker and guitarist Karl Beckmann, they’ve put together a fine collection of catchy, skull smashing odes to blood soaked battle fields and mystic journeys that is sure to scoop up any and all hungry consumers of Folksy and Gothenburg oriented metal.
Named for the period of cataclysmic winter that proceeds the twilight of the gods, “Fi’mbulvitr” packs an impressive yet very accessible series of punches that walk a tight rope of between various extreme and melodic formulas. Though this is generally a straight up dose of raucous screams, formulaic riffing, battering beats and some very occasional atmospheric twists, the approach found here is a bit more varied than the almost one-dimensional one taken by Amon Amarth, which is probably the closest similar band to this one. The melodies are a bit more nimble, often times being reminiscent of the shimmering brilliance of middle era Immortal and Enslaved, and sometimes even wandering back to a slightly earlier mode of catchiness that is often associated with early 80s Manowar, but flavored more in line with what was heard on Abbath’s side project dubbed I.
Perhaps the only real flaw to be found here, and it’s a very forgivable one, is that there’s barely a song that stands out given the consistent brilliance and simplicity of the whole. When hearing even the tremolo drenched brilliance with a strong dose of droning melodies that is “Lingering A Sacred Ground” or the drinking song oriented chorus amidst a set of chaotic melodeath on “Brethren Of The North”, the enjoyment of one song seems to give way a bit to an anticipation of the next one, as if each riff is foreshadowing a better one to come. With maybe the exception of “Heroes’ Brigade” which starts off slow and serene and settled into a more mid-paced groove, everything on here speeds along with the fury of a berserker charge, letting up at a few sparsely placed break sections littered among a few choice songs. Perhaps the most auspicious break is the intro to “The Last Journey”, having a melodic set heavily reminiscent of the Celtic influences heard on Suidakra, but meshed into a somewhat more disciplined format indicative of bands of the Ensiferum mold, arguably the best song on here if catchiness is the chief criterion.
While my own familiarity with Beckmann’s past bands is non-existent, this has given me a strong incentive to remedy this likely misfortune. Anyone who has any level of familiarity and respect for Swedish melodeath should check this out, as would most of the folk and Viking hounds of the metal world, but particularly people who wonder what Amon Amarth would sound like if they occasionally threw in a little Viking chant line or gang chorus to complement the lyrical subjects. It’s not the fanciest or most technical thing to come out of metal of late, nor does it really come off as terribly progressive beyond the occasional splicing of death and black metal influences that are typical of a number of prominent bands in this style, but it’s sure to put a smile on any unshaven face that fancies sounds that go beyond the safeness of hard rock.
Karl Beckman must find himself scratching his head sometimes at the way things work in his field of vocation. After several years hard slog with his first post-Mithotyn band, Infernal Vengeance, and only one demo compilation to show for it, he eventually wound the band up in 2008. Formed the same year, his new venture King of Asgard needed to release only one demo and not even assemble a full line-up before being snapped up by no less than Metal Blade for their proper debut, ‘Fi'mbulvintr’.
The demise of Infernal Vengeance was a shame as their 3 demo releases (2 of them handily bunched as ‘Dual mayhem’) were good fare, an interesting mix of viking and raucous traditional metal shenanigans, though it soon became clear the band were going nowhere and putting a cap on it has now been vindicated with this undoubtedly superior debut CD. King of Asgard share some similarities (most notably Beckman’s roaring vocals and unmistakable melodies), but the rocking antics have been shorn away to leave a traditional viking metal CD that recalls much of the glory of Mithotyn, delivering a hearty mix of scathing viciousness and spirited horde anthems.
In many ways, ‘Fi'mbulvintr’ is a throwback to simpler times, the rousing folk melodies engraved into the rampant rhythmic assault almost purely on lead guitar, with no further extravagances cluttering up the already dense rhythms. Karsten Karsson, who has spent the last decade with the ‘other’ Mithoyn guitarist in Falconer, has been recruited by his new label mates and seems to be revelling in his reunion both with Beckman and viking metal in general, beating the living hell out of his kit on the heavier material like he hasn’t done since the end of the 90s.
While the songs are all cut from very similar cloth, it is fair to say that Beckman has written a collection with enough diversity to stop it all becoming one long roar. For all the relentless intensity – it really barely lets up at all from start to finish – there is a good balance between power metal gallop and discordant blasting, with both interspersed by slowed down, highly melodic bridges where the old-timey melodies are really given opportunity to soar. The deciding factor of which way the songs tip often depends on whether or not the chorus sees the blasting drums speed up even more while Beckman screams his guts out, or whether things open up a little and a massive, heroic gang choir takes over.
The former, less overtly aggressive style probably edges it percentage-wise, not least on the staggering “The last journey”, which begins with a beautiful solo chant by Helene Blad (sister of Falconer’s Mathias and another old Mithotyn associate) which is swiftly replaced by a boisterous male choir and sets up the CD’s most inspirational battle hymn.
Generally speaking, you can pick which way the song will swing just going by the title. “Brethren of the north” is perhaps the most overtly upbeat, bearing a rather acute similarity to some of Ensiferum’s earlier, more power metallish songs, while the Unleashed-tastic title “Never will you know of flesh again” is a forewarning to the screaming extreme metal attack contained therein.
This black/death metal aggression can’t be understated, as while there is plenty in the way of stirring anthems, a more sensitive soul approaching in hope of finding another Falconer is going to come away with bleeding ears. The cascading guitars that come to a head on “Lingering a sacred ground” in particular will really satisfy those looking for some good old fashioned Scandinavian dissonance, and show that Beckman and co and still mix it with the best of them when it comes to the heavier stuff.
A near-perfect blend of the key components of a good viking metal CD, ‘Fi'mbulvintr’ is a welcome return after over a decade away from one of the style’s former leading lights. Old Mithotyn fans can rejoice, and newcomers can get in line too – Karl Beckman is back, and he’s breathing fire.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
This has been a great month so far in terms of some new bands finding their way into my psyche, and ultimately yours if you’ve trusted my judgment over these past few months. I hope I’ve been leading you to some great bands.
I saw the comparisons to Dissection, a band dear to my cold heart, so I hoped for another band like Germany’s Thulcandra that corners that sound and just exploits the hell out of it to the nth degree of greatness. While moments like that are few and very far between, King of Asgard from, you guessed it, Sweden issues its first full-length in Fi’mbulvintr.
When the first track “Einharjar” hit my ears I immediately started smiling and scanning the online shops to pre-order my copy. I was that certain I wasn’t going to be disappointed and I’m not. In addition to some very interesting and true Viking/black metal in the vein of Dissection, Thulcandra, and some Primordial, there’s an abundance of really catchy riffs here in tracks like “Wrath of the Gods”, which feels like Storm of Light’s Bane for the modern era. While not racing an invisible clock for cold metal supremacy like some music of this type, Fi’mbulvintri is a welcome time machine back into the period of true black metal with a Scandinavian lining that not only entertains, but inspires and lifts you to a higher plane of thinking. For the fan of this type of metal King of Asgard is just what the good doctor orders.
The songs are the perfect length; they don’t overstate their positions, and they’re not so short as to leave the chapter hanging in the balance. While many bands vie for the longer songs to make a point (usually lost in the process), tracks like “Snake Tongue” and “The Last Journey” are just long enough to transport you and short enough to bring you back unscathed. “Brethren of the North” has a chorus that isn’t so much a sing-a-long as it is a melodic calling to arms and camaraderie, making even a Chicago boy like me long for some cold Swedish weather. Killer production throughout makes it a can’t-miss as well.
I truly wish more releases were of such high caliber; I’m being irreparably spoiled by such overwhelming material of late. It once again makes me happy for the future of the genre. With classics-in-making like “Einharjar”, and “Brethren of the North”, Fi’mbulvintr is a glorious burden on your Viking-themed soul, as emotionally fulfilling as it is mentally heavy - a trip for the ages.
(Originally written for www.MetalPsalter.com)