Lumsk - Åsmund frægdegjevarMetal these days is in an undeniable downswing. Right now very few bands are doing something new, fresh or innovative. Instead, we’re riding a wave of retro metal: retro Swedish death; retro power; retro ’80s; re-thrash. In all the bustle about the latest cult ’70s style doom record that making everyone hot in the britches, I’ve been getting the itch for something new. Unfortunately, with the exception of the occasional glimmer of hope, right now is also a time for those of us who can to turn our eyes backwards. With a backward glance we talk about records that really should not be forgotten, things that were and, given the retro craze, probably will be again. In this case, I am thinking of Lumsk‘s debut record Åsmund frægdegjevar. Hard to believe this record is 10 years old.

Folk metal has been a popular genre, generally speaking, since the early days of Isengard, Storm and Otyg. The Scandinavian melancholy and minor key, combined with the national romance that is rooted so deeply in the Norwegian subconscience (and also exists in Sweden, but is a little bit more shameful here), seems to have made the entire idea a foregone conclusion. Without getting too far into the history, a number of bands have done their own, fascinating takes on the genre but Lumsk might possibly be the best: the physical embodiment of folk metal. But don’t be fooled! Before you run off and buy the band’s whole discography, Lumsk only had one really good, dark folk metal record in them and that was Åsmund frægdegjevar, the later releases have neither Bjørnar Selsbak or Vibeke Arntzen, which changes their style dramatically and diminishes their power.

Åsmund frægdegjevar tells the tale of Åsmund, a Norwegian folk hero, who goes off to save a princess at the troll castle (Trollebotten). In the band’s interpretation of the tale, this is in Ireland and it’s a long, dangerous journey. Telling this tale through 13 tracks, Lumsk creates the kind of atmosphere that has never been matched before or since; Åsmmund Frægdegjevar is dark, haunting, brooding and melancholy, slow and tempered. From the opening strains of orchestrations in introduction “Det var Irlands kongi bold,” and the call to arms at the beginning of “Ormin lange” (“The Long Snake” – referencing the ship Åsmund sails in), the listener – even the listener who doesn’t speak Norwegian – gets drawn into the strong narrative built by the music.

Lumsk 2003Slowly, but surely, Åsmund frægdegjevar creeps forward, a bit like Ormin Lange on its way to Ireland, accompanied by Viking choirs like on “Skip under lide,” beautiful strings work in “I lytinne två” (and everywhere else) and even with organ with Vibeke Arntzen’s amazing vocals on “Der e ingin dag’e.” The album is long – almost a whole hour – but because the songwriting is so immersive one never loses the thread, instead feeling totally involved in the feel, sucked in by the mid-paced riffing and the beautiful clean vocal performances. There is an expressiveness and heaviness to Åsmund frægdegjevar that I can’t ever remember from a folk metal record of its sort; it’s deadly serious, hauntingly deep and insidious underneath the beautiful folky strains.

Åsmund frædegjevar is almost more folk than metal and certainly more “pure” than most of what gets called folk metal these days. The vocals never become extreme and there’s no nod towards black metal or death metal throughout, instead the lilting melancholy of Norwegian folk music layers over surprisingly groovy riffs. At times the band will break down into polska rhythms that turn the songs into folk music with heavy, downtuned chug (“Skip under lide” and “Trollehender”) and there are even moments when the guitars disappear – leaving only orchestrations and flutes with Vibeke’s silky, beautiful voice (like “Hår som spunnid guld” or “Olafs belti”).

Dark and stirring, Lumsk‘s Åsmund frægdegjevar is a folk metal must. When one talks about records that just have an “X Factor,” Åsmund frædegjevar is definitely one those. Every song is cool, but it’s not just every song or every riff or the vocal performances that make the album such a masterpiece. Instead, the whole album is like one magnificent, dark journey with epic melodies and riffs and an impossible to reproduce feel that will penetrate your defenses and set root. Over and over again Åsmund frædgegjevar will draw you back into the fold. This may be the best folk metal record ever.

Tracks to absolutely NOT miss: “Slep meg,” “Skip under lide,” “Kampen mot bergetrolli,” and “Olafs belti.” But the whole fucking record is gold.

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  • flaming_froghurt

    “Metal these days is in an undeniable downswing. Right now very few bands are doing something new, fresh or innovative.”

    Sadly this is true. But honestly, how much more is there to innovate? I have the feeling that everything that can be done has been done.

    • No, it’s a good question. It’s hard to imagine. I think one place we see genuine progression is with bands like Dodecahedron and Ulcerate and Wormed. Very amelodic bands are a new thing, really.

      • Faustian Bargain

        Agreed on the Dodecahedron. But I wouldn’t exactly call that pushing serious boundaries. It is just really good original black metal. Ulcerate is terrible.

        • I think they’re pushing boundaries, all fo them, with their atonal approach. But that might just be me… still, you’re right about Dodecahedron being insanely good black metal.

          • There’s Diablo Swing Orchestra too, doing unique stuff in metal and who sounds like Hail Spirit Noir? Agreed on the amelodic bands, that can really become something.

          • Faustian Bargain

            yes, i think you are right. it is my favorite BM album of 2012, and maybe for some time.

      • Faustian Bargain

        I think Abyssal is really taking DM to a new place. Some compare them to Portal, but the major difference is that Abyssal has tangible riff and song writing this also very amelodic. A ton of bands are going to jump on this wagon, if they haven’t already. I think Abyssal does this the very best.

        • Abyssal that’s on Hellthrasher?

          • Faustian Bargain

            Their 1st release is on Hellthraser, and the 2nd newest one will be coming out on Profound Lore. You can hear both on Bandcamp. The 2nd album is really just some of the most insane evil shit i have heard. it really walks the fine line of chaos and order. I had to listen to it about 3 or 4 times before i really heard the structures and riffs. They are there for sure. The 1st album is much more structured and easier to bite onto, but still an excellent DM album. Very avant right now i think.

    • Hey, I still know there’s some stuff that actually can be done in metal. Naturally it won’t be as big as when thrash, death and black metal started, but there will always be something. What it is, I don’t know, but that’s the beauty of it. There’s a reason metal has managed to survive as long as it has, and that’s rooted in the ingenuity of the musicians

  • I’m seriously hoping this record is as good as you say it is, I haven’t heard a pure folk metal album ever since Älvefärd / Sagovindars Boning graced my ears a year or so ago. After hearing those, Finntroll, Ensiferum, Eluveitie and even Tyr and Falkenbach seemed rather weak in terms of a pure folk metal experience.
    (I think Asmegin was the only other band that had a truly folk-y experience)

    • This is definitely on par with Otyg’s material in terms of purity.

  • Faustian Bargain

    I think this notion that ‘all has been done and what else could anyone possibly do to bring something new to the table’ has been said since the early 90’s. There is innovation out there, I just think it doesn’t capture most peoples interest because everyone is looking back now or for something else or in the wrong places. Hence, these bands get buried and not noticed, or labeled as strange or ‘experimental’ or too progressive. I am not talking bands that are being weird for the sake of weird (i.e. just noise or putting weird instruments in places it doesn’t really belong). I just think excellent innovative new bands get missed because people are too drowned in the current retro-zeitgeist. I remember when the 2nd wave of Black Metal hit the streets, I mean right when it really started. There was a huge push back from the Metal community because they felt the sound was awful and the song writing and singing styles were just too far out there. Now look where that has taken us. I was laughing at the time thinking everyone in the metal community is a fucking moron for suggesting such things, and I think the same thing now about everyone giving adulation to all this retro shit. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good stuff coming out of the retro spectrum, more Death Metal than Doom and Rock though. But, I’ll leave the Doom and Rock to the Hipster tattooed young bloods that think they are just so cool.

    So if you want something new, you have to actually open up your mind and really look. Because that shit is not being pushed by the labels, because they don’t move product and aren’t economically viable (yet).

  • It’s just too bad that they peaked with this album. Troll is an enjoyable album for the most part, but a bit uneven, and De Vilde Kor was downright boring, and the fact that they ripped off entire melodies of what they themselves had done before for earlier songs was a strong indication that the inspiration had run dry at this time…

  • MetalMartin

    Thanks for this one. I gave it a try on Soundcloud and finally bought the album. This is serious good shit.

  • Whoa that’s about the folkiest thing I’ve ever heard. Thanks for bringing that one up.