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Epic Sagas and Frozen Shores - 85%

Thumbman, December 3rd, 2019

With the debut album Storm, Panphage was established as one of the best up-and-coming one-man black metal acts. It wasn’t wildly original or anything, but where it succeeded was ransacking a plethora of influences across the black metal spectrum and assembling it as a cohesive whole. The triumphant vibe and infectious melodies are what really sealed the deal for me. While Storm remains the Panphage classic for me, Drengskapr proves to be a worthy sophomore effort. While the elements that made Storm such a victorious onslaught are still in the mix, this one often focuses more on atmosphere and cold, biting riffs.

Drengskapr is a concept album about Grette Asmundsson, a strong and moody outlaw, who is the subject of the Icelandic sagas follows. This theme must have inspired Fjällbrandt to get into the fighting spirit, because some of these riffs are just downright mean. While still there, the melodic fare is largely pushed to the sidelines. Fjällbrandt takes note from a wide variety of second wave and late 90s classics, with Taake being particularly prominent. The Viking metal influence really shines through in the folkier sections. There is one really cool riffing style he does and I just can’t get enough of it – the tremolo hammer-on pull-off riffs on higher strings type riff comes up a bunch, and it always sounds so badass and menacing. The melody is really brought back towards the end of the album. “Drangey” is the standout track; the part where the song recedes to just the rhythm section and then a big melodic riff comes triumphantly swirling out of it is my favourite moment on the whole album. Album closer “Blodshämd” also features lots of tasty melodic riffing.

I feel like the fact the album is very much a one-man affair (presumably made on a laptop) is made more apparent with the more atmospheric nature of this album. The abundance of victorious melodies do a lot to distract from that on Storm. This is very well produced as far as one-man projects go, but sometimes I feel like it could use a bit more bass presence. The programmed drumming is very run of the mill here (I remember enjoying it a lot more on the previous album), and their sound is by far the weakest element of the album. There really isn’t much more to criticize on this album. I guess he does overdo the whole samples of the ocean thing – it’s kind of like how Agalloch loved abusing wind samples.

While I liked the style of Storm a bit better, Drengskapr proves a very strong follow up. The mix between burly rasps and understated deep clean vocals works very well, and the album has the ebb and flow of a great saga. The icy riffs hit hard and the melodic parts are jaw-dropping when they come up. Having heard so many bargain bin bedroom black metal bands makes me appreciate a band like this so much more. Much can go wrong when one person tries to do everything, but we also get cases like this where a singular vision really shines through.