Månegarm // Legions of the North 
Rating: 3.0/5.0 — Enjoyable, but not elite
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: manegarmsweden.com facebook.com/manegarmsweden
Release Date(s): EU: 2013.06.26 | US: 07.02.2013

Månegarm - Legions of the NorthIn the late ’90s and early ’00s (aughts, as I call ’em), there was a swath of Scandinavian bands forming something of a scene around the sound of folk influenced black metal. Chief among these were ThyrfingMoonsorrow, and Månegarm. While Moonsorrow changed their sound with time and went on to have widespread respect, the Swedish bands (Månegarm and Thyrfing) both labored in relative obscurity. Why Månegarm never quite pushed their way onto the international stage is mysterious for me, because they’ve always been a band producing unique, interesting, and enjoyable music. In any case, Legions of the North marks the band’s first record since 2009’s Nattväsen which was released on the struggling (and now defunct) Regain Records. While Nattväsen was excellent, my major complaint was simply that it was largely a repetition of 2007’s Vargstenen. After 4 years, signing with Napalm Records, getting a new drummer and losing violinist Janne Liljeqvist, can Månegarm present a fresh face and fill their little niche in folk metal?

Legions of the North is definitely a well-polished and fun record that vacillates between two distinct styles: second wave black metal and love of Bathory. Opener “Legions of the North” shows off the black metal stylings immediately after the obligatory intro track “Arise” finishes. The blasty drums and tinny guitar tone, with only barely audible bass,  bring back the 1990s for anyone familiar with them. But what has always separated Månegarm from the pack was their use of violin and clean vocals. Despite the departure of their long time violinist (and owner of a mean fro) Janne Liljeqvist, both of these things make their appearance in “Legions of the North.” This style of driving melodic black metal—that almost borders on Amon Amarth style melodeath riffing—with epic clean vocals defines tracks like “Tor Hjälpe,” “Sons of War,” “Fallen,” and “Forged in Fire.”

The riffs are often in harmonic minor, giving Månegarm a very specifically Scandinavian folk music vibe that penetrates even their ‘rawest’ material. But Månegarm isn’t rawLegions of the North is well produced, and characterizing it as a nod to raw or atmospheric black metal would be misleading. Instead, this material is more reminiscent of modern metal with all its drawbacks and icky compression. That said, Legions of the North is well-mastered (if still far too compressed), and has none of the aggressive over-mastering that stains Vargstenen to this day. In terms of a real throwback in sound, the band’s biggest influence seems to be Bathory‘s Nordland I and II. While the production is light years better than those records, the mid-paced Bathory worship parts of Månegarm‘s sound and the Viking choirs are most closely rooted in these classic albums.

Månegarm 2013The big change that longtime fans will notice is that Legions of the North is entirely in English. One of Månegarm‘s defining features has always been Swedish texts, and I’m curious as to why the changed. It’s not necessarily a drawback, as many in the world market refuse to listen to bands who aren’t singing in English, but it’s striking. And while Nattväsen was a much darker album than its predecessor, Legions of the North is practically folk dance-able at times, certainly the feel reaches back to Månegarm‘s earliest sound.

While Legions of the North isn’t exactly the band breaking a ton of new ground—they don’t stray any further afield from their mold than the acoustic finale “Raadh”—the record is chock full of good tracks like “Hordes of Hel,” “Sons of War,” “Fallen,” and “Forged in Fire.” But Liljeqvist’s unique presence goes missing in his style, even if violins are still included on the album, and the writing doesn’t have the same kind of spark that the last couple of records had. Legions of the North isn’t disappointing, per se, but it doesn’t quite live up to the genius output that these Swedes managed in the last decade.

Still, I’m seriously glad to see Månegarm with a new record in 2013. I suspect that with a long-lasting relationship with one of the best labels for letting bands just do their thing, Månegarm can continue to put out excellent metal. And I strongly suggest, for the reader who’s never heard the band before, to head back and check out the band’s earlier material. 

  • Noctus

    I found this album to be quite a step down from Nattvasen and an even bigger step down from Vargstenen. The violin seemed tacked on as an afterthought rather than being an active part of the songwriting and it made one of this band’s serious strengths into a big weakness.

  • Matus Dust

    I have to agree with the review and the above comment. The violins seem to be there just to justify the expectations from the fans – “but we have violins”. They blend in the mix most of the time, there are no memorable violin solos as on Nattvasen (e.g. “Vetrarmegin” or “I den Svartaste Jord”). I assume switching to English lyrics has something to do with signing to new label. In my opinion, it doesn’t suit them. At its worst, the lyrics reminded me of Amon Amarth (now don’t get me wrong, I like AA – its just not what I want to think of when I listen to Manegarm). I have a minor complaint about the song structure as well, Legions of the North seem to feature more conventional song structure, which might get a bit repetetive (as opposed to Nattvasen). Thats probably good for live shows where people can shout the choruses and stuff, but it is less interesting for a solitary listen on headphones.

    Fortunately, the rest of the positive aspects we got to love from band’s previous albums are still present here and the music still kicks ass! Manegarm is the best that this little sub-genre has to offer imho.

  • Good review, not a bad album. I missed their 2009 release! I guess I should check that out, huh?