There’s music meant for a summer drive with the top down (old Van Halen), hitting the weights hard (Slayer, Pantera) and a night of hard-drinking in sketchy beer mills (Fireball Ministry, Orange Goblin). Likewise, the new slice of folksy Viking metal from Falkenbach proves perfect for chopping wood in the brisk Fall air. While I recognize “wood chopping” or “lumberjack” metal is an under-served medium [Possibly for… reasons. – AMG], I feel confident saying this is the finest chopper metal I’ve heard all year.
As a long time fan of Markus Tummers (AKA Vratyas Vakyas) and his one-man project, I consider output like …En Their Medh Riki Fara and …Magni Blandinn Ok Megintiri to be essential moments in the history of the Viking/folk genre. I was however, underwhelmed by the re-recorded demo material on Heralding — the Fireblade and let down by 2011’s Tirurida (which felt rushed and incomplete, despite a few quality moments). Thankfully, wise old Vakyas made a course correction and Asa is a triumphant return to the pyre dancing, Wotan humping days of yore. Channeling the Hammerheart era of Bathory, the folksy atmospherics of Ulver and SIG:AR:TYR and the majestic power of Moonsorrow, Asa gives the people exactly what they want in their Viking metal: epic flavored power and loads of festive (but not too festive) folk. Catchy and full of stoic ambience, this is the stuff that put Falkenbach on the map in the first place.
Asa is a very well structured album and offers several variants of the Falkenbach sound. You get moody folk numbers like “Vaer Stjernar Vaerdan,” “Mijn Laezt Wourd” and “Eweround,” all of which channel classic Ulver, while “Mijn Laezt Wourd” also co-opts the larger-than-life vibe of Moonsorrow, including all the requisite background chanting and clean sung folk melodies you’d expect. All of these traditional folk numbers work well by creating a somber, edgy vibe that makes them seem heavier than they really are (most are entirely clean-sung with nary a croak or bark). When the music gets harder and more blackened on “I Nattens Stilta,” “Stikke Wound” and “Wulfarweijd,” things remain oddly catchy, with “Wulfarweijd” almost qualifying as the J-Pop version of Viking metal. They also provide light and buoyant fare on “Bluot Fuer Bluot” replete with hop-along flute lines, and some uplifting and hopeful strains on “Ufirstanan Folk.”
The mixture of these different ingredients keeps Asa flowing and the shifting moods and tempos easily hold the listener’s attention. None of the songs achieve skull-busting heaviness, but that was never where Falkenbach‘s strengths resided anyway. Tummers has always been adept at manipulating the feeling within his songs and whether heavy or simply folkish, he wrings all the emotion from his compositions and weaves a mesmerizing spell. At times his music almost has an improvisational feel to it, as if you were hearing the spontaneous creations of bards around a campfire, and this leads to a warm, organic sensibility which enhances the overall experience and increases the hypnotic quality.
Tummers does everything himself and turns in an impressive performance all around. His clean folk singing (in old Icelandic and Germanic tongues) is very good, especially his dramatic baritone on “Eweround” and his vocal patterns on “Mijn Laezt Wourd.” His emotional delivery is sincere, but never overblown. His blackened croak is also convincing, though a bit under-utilized. His acoustic guitar work is always a pleasure and he manages to keep it engaging, though at times the layered harmonies can overpower. I’m unsure if Tummers laid down the drum tracks or if they were programmed, but they sound legit and I’m willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt.
My issues with Tiurida were the overall lack of power, the less-than-compelling writing and how it felt like background music. Asa corrects all these problems and every song is engaging, memorable and enchanting in its own way. I wish it was a bit heavier and featured more of the blackened edge of olde, but those days may be gone for good. Asa is still addicting and gets better with every spin and it’s really good to have Falkenbach… back! It just didn’t feel right swinging the axe without em.