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Falkenbach > Laeknishendr > Reviews
Falkenbach - Laeknishendr

Lay Your Healing Hands on Me - 88%

Call_From_The_Tower, November 30th, 2008

Lightning blazes across the tumultuous skyline as sheets of freezing rain mercilessly fall on the cruel, throbbing sea below. Waves ceaselessly pound into the bare rock wall on the shore, worn from years of abuse by the terrible wrath of Njord, as thunder bellows out from the hands of Thor, menacingly rippling under the black clouds that undulate above the water in a terrible, grim uproar. Tiny figures wrestle with their vessels far below in the sinister, grey sea, trying in vain from being sent careering into the deathly rocks, cold and glistening in anticipation. Men scream and wood splinters as a final great clap of thunder roars overhead.

And so ends the first few minutes of Falkenbach’s Læknishendr as Skirnir comes to life in a fit of raw, melodic beauty. If anyone has actually paid attention to my non-stop fellating of this band on the forums, which I sincerely doubt, you may have noticed that I’m somewhat a large fan of Germany’s Falkenbach. Even from his earliest musical ventures, the ever-brilliant Vratyas Vakyas had an abiding ability to be able to convey the themes of his music – under the banner of the tenuously dubbed genre of Viking metal – with unrivalled clarity and vision, and no greater example of this will be found than this 1995 demo entitled Læknishendr.

Falkenbach have always been a band miles ahead of their contemporaries, leaving other bands of a similar nature choking on huge, impenetrable plumes of dust as Vakyas forges ahead. Vratyas Vakyas has always seemed to have an unmatched well of creativity and, more than that, a musical sincerity and soul that elevates his music above the cheesy synths and simple guitars that constitute the material he writes as well as the slew of contemporary bands that have sprung up in the genre, never getting close to the same, colossal peaks that Falkenbach has scaled with ease. In my experience, no folk or Viking metal band has ever been able to capture the essence of what makes Falkenbach special; the heartfelt, genuine melodies that speak to that inner pagan nestled inside you.

However, back in the murky depths of 1995, we find a much different entity than what would emerge just one year later with the melodically-driven En Their Medh Riki Fara, and especially from the band that would come back in the new millennium with the heavily folk-influenced Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty. No, here we have a Falkenbach just emerging from the primordial sludge and finding its feet in a world populated solely by the powerful figures of Germanic mythology. The Falkenbach we find here has only just leapt from the immoveable foundations set up by Bathory, creating its own, unique ground on which to expand on the monolithic albums laid down by its Swedish forefather.

If you’ve only ever heard latter era Falkenbach, you’re in for quite a shock when you download this extremely rare album – being limited to 33 copies, I doubt you’re going to be buying it. You’ll find no flutes or delicately played dueling acoustics here, just back-to-basics black metal tinged with Vratyas’ own unique and very prevalent Viking styling. The music here is firmly founded in the aesthetics of black metal, with muffled, thin guitars, computerised drums, ear-piercing rasps and shrieks, and a heavy helping of synths dominating the release. However, this is not to suggest that Vratyas was at one stage creating what could be termed as ‘straightforward’ black metal. That would be an unfair and incorrect appraisal of the material. In fact, this demo is still Falkenbach to the core, just stripped down to its bare essentials. The music is still absolutely (and I dread to use the word, but it is apt for this band and release) epic in proportions. Huge, sweeping guitar riffs rise with tremendous power, taking the listener to the summits of gigantic icy peaks, the depths of deep, crushing oceans, through the searing ice and flames of Niflheim and Muspelheim, through the vast frozen tundra and dense woodlands of the north, and finally across the arching colours of Bifrost.

As always, Vratyas’ compositional skills are exquisite, and what he would nearly perfect one year later with his debut album is still very present here, albeit in a more primitive and not quite as developed stage. The songs constantly change between driving, melodic guitar riffs to mid-paced plodding that explores the truly epic nature of the music. Contrasting the buzzing distortion are lengthy segments of beautifully constructed clean passages. The chorus of the title track, which any Falkenbach aficionado should be very familiar with, deserves special mention here, featuring a much slower version of the chorus than what would later be shown off on the debut and again on Heralding the Fireblade. I have to say that I probably enjoy this version the most out of all of its incarnations, as it really captures the essence of not only the extremely well-written, prideful guitars and tribal drums, but also the poetic nature of the lyrics, taken from the Sigrdrífumál of the Poetic Edda. Asaland, the last track on the demo, is also worth mentioning, producing some of the most beautiful and vivid melodies you are likely to hear from Falkenbach as well as giving the release an appropriately epic ending. Every riff seems well thought out and perfectly timed, playing for just long enough to completely let the melodies envelop the listener in their dense textures. Even the nearly 11-minute long epic Blond is very well constructed, despite using a very basic and uniform melody, dwelling on each minor change in the tune long enough to properly let the music sink in before suddenly switching to a delicate expansion on the melody or a change in style to give the song a totally different complexion.

Vratyas’ vocals are fantastic, as per usual. His rasps, shrieks and cleans are truly emotive; traversing high-pitched wails to melodic cleans to wolf-howls. His screams are also quite a bit harsher than what they would be on the first two full-lengths, which can be expected considering the style that this demo is grounded in. Although he is not what you would call a particularly gifted clean singer, his appeal really comes from his sincerity and melody. It simply adds an emotional depth to the music and gives it a sense of authenticity. His use of keys is at times sparing, and at others quite noticeable, but instead of being a nuisance as they can often be, Vratyas seems to know when it is appropriate to stick his finger in the synthesizer pie to add that extra layer of atmosphere to the already dense and epic sound. The very fake sounding drums may be annoying to some given their very obtrusive presence; however, they give an extremely vigorous, pulsating feeling to the music; pounding and throbbing under the melodies wheeling in full glory above.

Læknishendr is a fine example of the innumerable talents of this extremely gifted German. Even though this is a very raw incarnation of Falkenbach and the material is not quite as matured as their later work would eventually be, especially on the magnificent Magni Blandinn Ok Meginitiri, this seminal release quite clearly exposes the vast wealth of talent that Vratyas Vakyas has. It’s quite amazing, considering the relative popularity of Falkenbach in extreme metal circles, that this demo is not mentioned as often as Magni… or Ok Nefna… when people discuss Vratyas’ best work, as this release would be sitting fairly high up in the echelons of both black and Viking metal.