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Icy and harsh, like a good winter - 80%

doomknocker, August 14th, 2011

In the past, I’d lamented having Vikings and their rich, enchanting mythology shoved down our throats during the past number of years, but in hindsight, I may have mistaken the whole scheme as being problematic due to a glut of hack musical groups not doing it justice by way of their own lack of talent. Maybe that’s what it was, because in recent times I’ve been able to check out newer Viking acts that’ve really provoked some inner Nordic blood in me to boil most fiercely. Equally, though, there are still Mjolner-clad bands that STILL can’t do the mighty North justice, but in the end, they’re still ignored, if not irrefutably lambasted.

And with that, I’m now able to see how this group, one I’ve not really been too familiar with, can work with the lyrical material at hand…

The musical platter Skalmold offer with “Baldur” is a pretty above-average affair that conjures a rather old-school feel to their folk/Viking metal odes. There are all sorts of moments where the music end of things works very well, coupling a powerful riff foundation with all sorts of melodious tandems that’s 100% pure European awesomeness. Each track is filled to almost bursting with ideas that satisfies pretty nicely, keeping these guys away from the also-ran parade that continues to grow band by band, thankfully. And to be frank, I didn’t think I’d find that much to enjoy on this disc (nothing against them, of course…), and I was pleasantly surprised by what “Baldur” threw at me. It kept my attention throughout the disc’s duration, something that other groups in the past year or so were unable to do, and for that, props should seriously be given.

The double-fisted appeal of ferociousness and serenity works in great contrast with one another; the raging guitars and bestial rants forcing one’s victorious fist into the air, while the clean singing and melodic synth lines lowers the head in acquiescent praise. It would’ve been easy, I’m sure, for the heavy end of things to be noisy and a bit too boisterous for its own good, as is per usual with some of their more Nordic blooded contemporaries, but thankfully that’s not the case here; some of heavier moments do evoke a foreign thrashy feel, reminding me a bit of when Sepultura knew how to Arise (especially with the grimmer screaming vocals…), but there’s enough, dare I say, prettiness to go around that prevents it all from straining the ears and attention spans. That said, know that things start off a bit slow at first, but they really get going a few tracks in, getting to the point where you sit down, bob your head time and again and, before you know it, the disc is over! How’d THAT happen? Who knows, and who cares? It was still a fun jaunt all around, with songs like “Sorg”, “Kvadning” and “Daudi” going from motion to motion quite smoothly

At the end of the day, "Baldur" is a fine disc that truly deserves attention and a place in one’s record collection no matter where folk/Viking metal is in their musical taste department. If these guys keep up the pace, I can see plentiful accolades and bouts of praise thrown their way, and if I may be so bold as to say, it would be most deserved. Recommended.

The world needs more Skálmöld. - 85%

Lord_Lexy, August 14th, 2011

Skálmöld is an Icelandic sextet that released it début last year via the Faeroese label Tutl, a label that unfortunately only distributes its releases over the Faeroe Islands and Iceland. The big Austrian label Napalm Records has now taken care of the band and has released Baldur worldwide. And that is nothing less than what Baldur deserves.

Baldur is an album that, as the band had announced, follows the strict rules of traditional Icelandic poetry. It's quite a bummer my Icelandic isn't as good as it could be, but that's the way things are. The album tells the tale of Viking Baldur, whose family is killed by a demon. The Viking begins a quest to meet with his sworn enemy, kills him, dies and enters Valhalla. The good thing about this album is that it immediately absorbs you into this atmosphere of storytelling. In opener Heima you hear an older man sing a song for some children in the warmth of the hearth. Everything is right here: you here the echoes from the building they're sitting in, the children who sing along, the crackling of the fire and even the cries of a baby. A very nice way to begin an album, and it adds to the variation on the album.

After Heima begins the metal, metal supported by keys and an oboe, yes. The oboe you can hear in Árás, or in the intro of Kvaðning. It may sound strange but this peculiar sound that is used sporadically really adds to the quality of the music. Not that the music supports on it, because Skálmöld makes its music very interesting, in a way only few bands can. There is definitely an accent on the instrumental part of the music, as most of the songs have long parts without vocals and thus where the band can show its mastery of the instruments. These parts may last for quite a while, as in Kvaðning, but they are really interesting. The many changes in tempo, instruments used and melodies makes that a single song has much more to offer than you can absorb in a single listening session.

The vocals on the album switch between a raw lead vocalist and a choir. For example Árás, where the lead vocals to the more important parts and the choir provides support here and there. But immediately after that there is Sorg, where you only here the choir. Also these changes add to the variation on the album.
And as you may have noticed, the word "variation" has been used a few times already. It is one of the most important, if not the most important, keywords of the album. Both in a single songs as between the different songs. The types of variation you hear in the songs themselves also occur between the different songs, with the main difference that two parts of a song couple seamlessly with one another, creating a solid whole. The variation between the different songs is bigger. There is the faster and harder Dauði, or Upprisa with an intro that wouldn't be out of place on a power metal album, or the happy Valhöll.

The album ends with two extra songs on the Napalm Records release. The song Baldur is truly an epic of nearly eleven minutes containing all the fine elements you've come to love, and retelling the tale through the eyes of Baldur. It must have been quite a challenge for the band to add an extra song to a concept album like this one, but they've succeeded and have added a new highlight to the release. Kvaðning also returns but in a shorter version. This short version contains the great instrumental part in the middle but it lacks something. The longer version is better, the edit didn't have to be added.

To conclude: Baldur is a rollercoaster ride of an album: during more than an hour the band fascinates you with only interesting songs. The story you may not understand if you don't speak Icelandic, but the music takes you. The band members show themselves masters of their instruments and that can be heard in the long instrumental parts. I'm already looking forward to Skálmöld's next release!

Originally written for www.ashladan.be