King of Asgard // …To North
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Picking the corpse clean with style.
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: kingofasgard.com | metalblade.com/kingofasgard/
Release Dates: NA: 07.31.2012 | EU: 2012.07.27/30
The late ’90s and early aughts showered fans of Viking metal with masses of bands of varying quality, but certainly during this period there was never a reason to want for more. Bands like Einherjer, Mithotyn, Unleashed, Amon Amarth and Enslaved were hocking their Bathory-worshipping Viking wares and we were all buying. But in more recent times, the quality and quantity of the Viking metal hoard seems to have petered out. Only the late and ill-fit have been invading the monasteries, and frankly there’s very little gold left for them to plunder. That is to say, the major bands are either broken up or well-established, and new (also good) Viking metal is once again more rare. It is in this void that former-Mithotyn and current Falconer members (plus a few stragglers who had previously graced the likes of Thy Primordial and Dawn) put together King of Asgard. Not straying particularly far from the herd, soundwise, with 2010’s Fi’mbulvintr, I thought these guys were OK, but they had failed to really impress. …To North sets out to settle that score.
From the mighty horns of the introduction of …To North I knew that I was in for something different, though, and when “The Nine Worlds Burn” kicked in with its chunky, mid-paced folk-tinged riff and jaw harp I was on board. The riffs throughout the album fall into two categories: mid-paced and chunky with almost an (old) Ereb Altor (see? Bathory worship) kind of feel like “Gap of Ginnungs,” “Nordgevr,” or title track “…to North.” But with these, the melodies also bring up Otyg or Isengard in their construction. The second group of riffs pulls out a much more Norsky sounding black metal that evokes Taake or Windir or, well, actually… Mithotyn. Here, tracks like “Plague-Ridden Rebirth” and “The Dispossessed” really conjure up that King of the Distant Forest feel; though vocalist Beckmann doesn’t have Stefan Weinerhall’s black metal approach—instead preferring lower mid-ranged growls to black metal shrieks.
What I think is interesting is that while the band has not ostensibly changed anything about the music that they’re performing from Fi’mbulvintr, …to North just sits better with me. For one thing the record has fewer, but longer tracks—both records actually clock in at about 53 minutes long—and the writing feels more inspired and energetic. The production helps, sounding less clean and more ballsy this go around. Another thing that might be going on is that “The Nine Worlds Burn” is a real ripper of a track, complete with amazing female vocals at the end and some of the best Viking riffing I’ve heard in a while, and that really just gets you excited for all the music that’s coming. The ensuing rush lays the ground for …To North and makes it very easily accessible. And while the feel of the record is varied between the groove and the trem-picking drive, the songs continue to pummel the listener all the way through “Harvest (the End),” only to leave you with a melancholy title track. This closes out the record subtly, leaving a bittersweet aftertaste and urging the listener to give the album another spin.
Unfortunately, King of Asgard‘s big problem is that it’s 2012 not 1998. This music is well-composed, well-performed, catchy and interesting, but you’ve heard this story before (though, if you’re new to the genre, this is actually a good place to start). It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just kind of makes it more difficult to sing the record’s praises because we at Angry Metal Guy like novelty (except Steel Druhm, who wears his leopard tights proudly). Still, if you’re a fan of the style or have been at any time, I strongly recommend you check the record out. It’ll scratch that itch that the new Amon Amarth and Einherjer just don’t seem to be scratching.