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Firstly, to impartially describe the music I must say most of this album is not quite metal. One would ask why not? Of course, Windir use screaming black metal-type vocals, their rhythm guitar is heavily distorted and plays all notes in fast tremolo picking, their drummer uses polka and black metal blast beats, among others; whoever produced their sound, he put enough reverb/room/echo effect on it so that listeners would call the music "deeply atmospheric". For some, these things are enough to call music "(black) metal". But there are other things to pay attention to.
Apart from a couple of moments, like the first half of the "Likbor" song, the music texture on this album is closer to rock and punk (Placebo, Muse, Zemfira and RAC bands) than to metal. Like in rock, here are a couple of instruments that just shift chords in generic uniform progressions (here: bass and rhythm guitar), and a lead instrument that continually plays a melody at high notes, harmonizing with the chords (here: lead guitar and sometimes keyboards). In brief, there are very few riffs here. Also, the clean, supposedly "viking", vocals used for some of the choruses strongly resemble those of late Enslaved. They're mellow and peaceful, if not humble.
The song structures, however, position the album a bit closer to metal. They are not the standard MTV verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus patterns. They are rather various, if not epic. Example of this are several verses in a song, each played to it's own new musical pattern, or extra long song outros and intros.
The album's production is about ideal to me - neat and clear.
Secondly, even as a rock or punk album, it sounds uninspired. As long as the screamed vocals, obviously, carry no notes and the clean vocals here just double the chord-shifting, the main music carrier is the melodies played by the lead guitar in their harmony with the rhythm. But the melodies are mostly generic arpeggios - just characterless uninventive filler. There's not a single melody you would involuntarily remember. This, in turn, means that "Soknardalr" is good as road music, background music.
If anything on this album is worth attention, it's probably the special Norwegian dialect in which the lyrics were written (wish I could understand them). But that's just of anthropological interest.
From the first track until the last one Valfar has proven to be one of the most talented songwriters in the history of Norwegian black metal, even in the history of black metal in general.
Having invented a style which he called 'Sognametal' it is obvious why he chose the title Sóknardalr. The first song shows already what Valfar’s trademark is: long melodies strengthened by more obvious, but nevertheless beautiful black metal riffs.
Of course there are songs of a lesser quality like 'Det Som var Haukareid' or 'Sognariket si Herskarinne', but even these are very good. The highlights of this album are Sognariket Sine Krigarar, Mørket Sin Fyrste, Røvhaugane and especially Likbør. All beautiful melancholic masterpieces, which should be given a chance by everyone who likes special black metal with lots of melody and emotion.
The vocals, both screams as clean vocals are appropriate for this kind of music and already show the diversity lying in Windir's music. Aggression and softness, melancholy... There are even some funny aspects, like Valfar's yeehaa's in some songs.
The production is, for a black metal album, very good. You don't have to do an effort to hear all instruments, and they all blend well, especially the keyboards. These are present but they are mostly there just to give an extra dimension to the guitars.
My conclusion is, as I already said, that Valfar showed the way for a totally new style. A path now followed by a variety of bands since his tragic death, but we must not forget with what it all started. R.I.P. Valfar! R.I.P. Windir!
Originally I was not going to give this a good review for one chief reason: it's needlessly idiotic the way Valfar shouts, "Yeeeeehaa!" in a number of the songs, like it's some sort of fucking barefoot knee-slapping hoedown. I tend to grimace at the suggestion of any Americanization within Viking or otherwise Scandinavian metal. This, on the other hand, just made me wince like my balls were getting stepped on! Fortunately, it is only a temporary musical backslide, and in the long run, is darkly overshadowed by the proficiency and majesty of the rest of the melodies.
That having been said, the music on this recording is dominant and powerful, with some moments of traditional power metal, but much greater is the dominance of the majesty of Nordic black metal and Viking themes. The instrumentation is varied, also incorporating several vocal styles: Valfar's death vocals are excellently rendered, his clean vocals are sufficiently in tune, and there are also female guest vocals amply applied throughout the album. Keyboards are used as well, mostly enhancing the mystical feel overall, but in a few places sound smothered and poorly mixed, such as in "Sognariket Sine Krigarar" and "Mørket Sin Fyrste", sounding like a mono post-record gone wrong. After that, the drums are fairly well-mixed, sounding crisp, so it shows off the precision, but not overpowering, so as to cut off the guitar work, from where that great black metal sound comes.
One of the melodic highlights of this album comes from "Sognariket si Herskarinne", featuring very majestic guitarwork, both in the black metal style and from acoustic guitar. One drawback here is that during the black metal passages, the bass guitar is mixed rather strongly, but since the bass guitar is playing the tonic in this key, it fortunately doesn't take too much away from the overall melody. Still, it could've been mixed lower without harming the composition of the tune.
The work is very consistent among all of the tunes and shows Valfar to be a very competent musician with a lot of potential. The production overall is not too bad; it's more or less on par with what you'd expect from a low-budget project. This is by no means intended to be a slur against black metal; meaning quite the opposite, a lot of talent is found there. The Head Not Found label has a real bright spot on their reputation for having released this album.
This was Windir's debut, and it was a promising start. It was so unfortunate how it was cut short. Although Windir has previous releases to this one, it was not until Sóknardalr was released, that Windir started getting the attention of black and viking metal fans alike. Also, his then girlfriend, future fiancée did supporting clean vocals on the first track.
The production on this album isn't as good as the later releases, probably due to a lack of money at the time. However, by no means is the production so bad that you'll barely be able to make out what Valfar is doing. Personally, I think the clean production suits Windir better, but what are you gonna do?
This album proves that Valfar was the mind behind Windir, as the sound is quite similar to future releases and, this album was composed entirely by Valfar. You'd think that the addition of several band members would greatly change a band's sound. However, it didn't. Only when Valfar died, and the other band members subsequently went on to form Vreid, that we truly knew what they were capable of but quite clearly, it isn't as good as this. If you're a fan of Windir, you won't be disappointed by this.
The songs are quite versatile and offer a variety of riffs. Valfar also interchanges between black metal vocals and clean vocals, which he is excellent at both. This is the only Windir release to feature female vocals. As mentioned before, she provided the backing vocals on the first song. Like Valfar, she does sound quite nice. Personally, I think Valfar's clean vocals are the best on this album than any other album. The drumming however isn't as good as later releases, because Valfar wasn't a drummer. Don't get me wrong, the drumming isn't terrible; it's just not as interesting as later releases.
As with all Windir releases, some songs hit you straight away, other songs you need to give them the time they deserve if you're going to like them. It's probably for that reason, that I've never seen a review for a Windir album below 70. But hey, if you listen to this album once, it'll be your loss.
Overall, this album was a promising start and the promise was later delivered and following releases. I wouldn't recommend this album to you if it's your first taste of Windir, instead get Arntor.
I consider Valfar the friend I never knew, as I started listening to Windir, 1 year after his death. What's so tragic about his death is the waste of talent. I don't think the Norwegian black metal scene has seen such a great musician since. What he left behind was a heart-broken fiancée, an unfinished musical legacy and legions of fans. Life truly is cruel.
We'll always miss you Valfar...
Conclusion: The above is strongly recommended for purchase or download, especially the fans.