I was only quite recently introduced to The Flight of Sleipnir. Since their formation in 2007, they have produced a steady stream of albums, with last year’s Saga being their best effort so far. Though based in Colorado, The Flight of Sleipnir follow the path of figuratively every folk metal band ever and take inspiration from Scandinavian folklore; yet both aesthetically (just look at that gorgeous album cover!) and sonically they have managed to distinguish themselves from the hordes of other Viking worshippers.
For the unenlightened, I’d say it’s fair to summarize The Flight of Sleipnir’s sound as a stoner/doom version of Agalloch. Most of Agalloch’s elements are present – winding acoustic passages, folk sensibility, mildly mournful riffs, and buckets of atmosphere. The Flight of Sleipnir add some psychedelic elements and generally aren’t so despondent, but their overall approach is quite similar. Frankly though, I’ve never got the hype around Agalloch. Their compositions are naïve (not endearingly), the vocals annoy me, and they meander too much for their own good. They’ve improved on recent albums, but I can’t help but cringe on hearing The Mantle or Pale Folklore, despite some wonderful moments. The Flight of Sleipnir fortunately don’t succumb to these problems. The screamed vocals are powerful, while the clean singing is suitably soft and trippy, and the meandering, while occasionally problematic, is generally kept interesting enough.
Opener “Headwinds” starts inauspiciously with one of the less captivating acoustic ramblings, but eventually builds to a magnificent head as the overdriven guitars enter with a most triumphant doom riff, pushing forward to an emotionally driven finale. This combination of moods and styles is apparent on all of the album’s seven tracks, and naturally the songs are rather long to allow the expression of the various elements within each – a change in approach from Saga, which was made up of shorter songs. “Sidereal Course” and “Gullveig” are heaviest on the psychedelic elements, melodically drifting towards Pink Floyd or even The Beatles territory, while closer “Beacon in Black Horizon” eschews quiet segments almost entirely, instead building around an epic, slow doom riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Cathedral album. This variety gives The Flight of Sleipnir their unique character and for the most part works very well, though the acoustic sections sometimes drag and could have used more rhythmic variation.
Sadly I have a more serious complaint: the recording lacks any width. I just don’t understand why anyone would think it’s a good idea to pan almost everything centrally all the time – particularly distorted guitars (cf. Snailking). This isn’t just an issue with V. – all of The Flight of Sleipnir’s previous albums suffer from this problem and I can’t fathom why no one has chastised them for it previously. The heavy sections should swallow the listener into a cavern of warm fuzz, and again the simple matter of panning has prevented that. It also means that when the band go for a big build-up towards a super heavy riff after an acoustic section, they don’t deliver with nearly as much impact as they might have. This isn’t helped by the relatively low dynamic range, which they could have increased dramatically to enhance the contrast between the acoustic and heavy sections. It may seem petty to spend so much time complaining about what is superficially a minor issue – loads of great albums have shitty production – but when the simple act of turning a couple of dials would have improved the listening experience so much, I find it extremely frustrating. Especially when, on “Nothing Stands Obscured,” they start to use stereo breadth to greater effect and you get a glimpse of what a better mixing job might have offered.
The Flight of Sleipnir deserve praise for creating a distinctive sound and image in the overcrowded world of Viking-influenced metal, effortlessly moving between quiet melancholy, spaced-out jams, and crushing heaviness. It’s just a shame that the music has been robbed of its potential by bad mixing. I sense a new epic must be written: The Saga of Odin’s Noble and Mighty Quest to Retrieve the Lost Pan Pots of Valhalla. What do you reckon?