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Elves and trolls are rarely so charming - 75%

autothrall, December 30th, 2009

It seems to me Sweden's Yggdrasil is almost the perfect band for twilight idylls and festivals of the Elven folk, dancing their pagan lilts through the cold, rich woodlands of the seasons. I mean no insult by this whatsoever, for I refer to the Elves of Norse legend, of primal grace and forgotten, mythic beauty. No, this is not faerie metal in the negative sense that I generally loathe upon, but a real evocation of folklore. Kvällningsvindar över Nordrönt Land is the band's debut, with material culled from their two previous demos and re-recorded. It's a good thing they decided to honor these tracks and breathe them new life, because there is no reason songs of this quality should not have reached a larger audience.

Like their newer effort Vedergällning, this album is long on atmosphere, but where many pagan/folk metal bands clash at the crossroads of archaic instrumentation and black metal aggression, Yggdrasil makes it sound like the two were always unified, as they can flawlessly transition through moments of melodic, ripping guitars, violins and synthesizer swells, with a fiddle here, or mouth-harp twanging off there. The vocals are clean and forward, but they intone like dark bells hung from the trees of this ancient landscape. About the only thing I did not find necessary on the album were the female vocals or the 'shrieking' vocals, but these are few and far between and greatly outnumbered by the finer moments.

An hour of atavistic relaxation commences with "I Nordens Rike", from the 2003 demo of the same name, and its ambient sounds of sky mesh seamlessly into the developing guitar melodies before the chords crash forward into a lead like a thousand autumn leaves exploding as a steady breeze strikes the tree. The only issue here is the screaming vocals just before the 6:00 mark, which serve to do little else than annoy, sticking out like a sore thumb in an otherwise great track. "Kvällning Över Trolska landskap" transforms beautiful acoustics and a sad violin line into a thundering blitz of black momentum, though the real star is the following melody. "Frid" is a sullen, slower folk metal piece, and the 11 minute "Gryningstid" morphs from percussive guitar rhythms to glistening streams of melody, an interesting and fairly original style. "Nattens Vandare" once again uses muted with a percussive feel, but this is more of an Amorphis feel with some violins. Love the melodies in this track.

"I Nattens Timma" moves at a slow, drawling doom, as shining melodies cling to the broiling sequence of chords, and the vocals soar. "Vinter" is much the same pace, but with less of an upper end to the notes, and a little more of the gruffer vocals. Good acoustics, good mouth-harp, but the female vocals feel a little mediocre (though subtle). "Nordmark" is a blitzkrieg at first, of rather average pagan black metal, and the female vox later in the track are half tolerable. Which leaves the "Elfdance", or "Älvadansen", to finish out the record...with more female folk vocals, this time covering almost the entire track. In the beginning, they are restrained and catchy, but when Michelle Maass starts screaming later on, results may vary.

Kvällningsvindar över Nordrönt Land is, for the most part, a good album, but there are points at which it starts to unravel (largely through the female vox) and feel like an effort from one of the great many other, mediocre folk metal bands Europe is spewing like a geyser of ex-goths. The stronger tracks here have all the dense atmospheres and lush idylls of the following album Vedergällning, which is superior to this. But the debut sounds quite somber and romantic in an ancient forest fashion, and it's nice to have the demo material made 'official' rather than left to wallow in the dusk.

Highlights: I Nordens Rike, Frid, Gryningstid, I Nattens Timma


A Beautiful Dream - 92%

Lord_Lexy, February 24th, 2009

“Kvällningsvindar över Nordrönt Land” is beyond any doubt the most beautiful folk metal album I possess, and chances are that it will remain that way. Only the successor, Vedergällning, might prove a worthy opponent in the competition. But of course, an album isn’t beautiful because it has a fancy and unpronounceable name or because the artwork is appealing. It grasps the sound, the atmosphere, the animals and the woods of the cold and godforsaken northlands.

“I Nordens Rike” is the best track on the album, and by far the best they could have chosen as an opener. It’s intro consists of an acoustic guitar part, later joined by a violin and a little after that, the acoustic sound becomes distorted but the melody remains the same. For three minutes this crescendo into a “real” song continues and than Yggdrasil shows its true face as a band. Joining the distortion is a choir of men’s voices. And than it gets even better: the choir is silenced and a grunting voice starts to sing together with the returning violin. At about six minutes a woman starts screaming and the guitars are paced up, to be joined again by our grunter. Near the end of the song, the melody from the intro returns with the violin, to be carried on as the grunter sings once more. And at eight and a half minutes, the song fades out, with the guitars playing that same melody over and over again as the violin has died and the grunter silenced. And at no point in this entire song there is a sense of “aggression” or “darkness” as you could call the dark atmosphere. That’s what I call beautiful.

The other songs carry on in this method: the clean singing of a choir or single man, the high vocals of a woman, the grunter, the violin and the change of pace of the guitars are all combined to create music full of passion and the feel of the wild forests. While listening to this you can easily imagine age-old pine forests never touched or treaded by mankind, where the wild animals and the mysterious creatures of ancient lore and frozen mythology still dwell. One more element adding to the magic of the whole is the entire sound of the cd: it sounds as if you hear the music through a veil of mist. The sound isn’t crystal-clear as one would expect from normal albums, but even if this would be a production mistake it only is in the advantage of the atmosphere.

An overall opinion of the album: the riffing is heavy enough to make you bang your head but the atmosphere allows to simply lay back, close your eyes and dream of long forgotten magic lores in those mystic lands of the north. Amidst my other folk metal (very happy party metal, Celtic metal or blackened folk metal), this really is a small and rare gem.

Umlauts aren't enough - 65%

drengskap, February 3rd, 2008

Yes, Yggdrasil are Nordic (Swedish, to be precise), and they have the umlauts to prove it! They are also one of approximately 40 bands on MySpace to be called Yggdrasil or a variant thereof, ranging all the way from techno to death metal, so make sure you’ve got the right one if you’re checking this band out. This young Swedish power trio are producing folk metal with pagan themes, which predisposes me in their favour, since this is a kind of music I generally enjoy.

Kvällningsvindar… is their debut album, and nine tracks extend over 56 minutes. All songs are in Swedish, which isn’t at all unusual for this genre, but some translations of the lyrics, or even just the song titles, would have been helpful. Although I can take a fair stab at guessing the lyrical themes without understanding a word of Swedish – these songs are about the mountains and forest of the northlands, the brave peoples who inhabited them and set forth from them on Viking adventures, the harshness of the Scandinavian climate, and the implacable gods who presided over all of this. The conventional metal instruments and harsh vocals are blended with acoustic guitar and folk instruments such as mouth harp, violin and keyed fiddle. Keyboards, choral and female vocals also put in an appearance, and the 11-minute epic ‘Gryningstid’ sees the band shift gears several times. My favourite track, though, was the more straightforward and heavy ‘Nordmark’.

Pagan folk metal is fast becoming an overcrowded marketplace, just as black metal did, with masters of the genre like Mǻnegarm, Moonsorrow, Thyrfing, Falkenbach, Korpiklaani and Finntroll rising above a mass of lesser bands like Pagan Reign, Tyr, Thrudvangar, Adorned Brood and Nomans Land. On the strength of this offering, I'm not convinced that Yggdrasil have what it takes to stand out from the crowd and be more than merely passable. They’re not bringing anything particularly new to the mead-hall feasting table, and while their musicianship and songwriting are OK, Kvällningsvindar… never quite takes off and flies in the way it should. Yggdrasil’s overall sound and blend of instruments are close to those of Mǻnegarm, but I kept willing their music to become heavier than it ever does – it’s just a bit too lightweight and pretty, and not headbanging enough. Yggdrasil are working safely within the boundaries of their chosen genre, not helping to define those boundaries. But then again, they’re young and this is the first album, so there’s still hope. And the photos of the band are a bit boring. Standing around in the snow in your jeans and coats isn’t the most visually arresting image, guys! Why not save up for some swords and shields and helmets and drinking horns for the next album?

This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine: