I dislike ‘Viking metal’ as a descriptor. It’s a vague term which alludes to lyrical content above the music itself. It can entail black or folk metal-derived darkness (Bathory), epic doom (Atlantean Kodex), raucous melodeath (Amon Amarth), and even power metal (Týr). Iceland’s Skálmöld falls somewhere between Amon Amarth‘s melodeath and the galloping triple-axe attack of Iron Maiden, stopping off at black metal for its raw tone and dabbling in doom for its long songs. See, wasn’t that easier than just ‘Viking metal’?
Með vættum picks up where Börn Loka left off, almost written as power metal in its pomp and energy, but executed with raw guitar tones and savage death growls. Nowhere is this more evident that on “Með drekum” (“Among Dragons”), which opens with a heroic riff before breaking into a down-tuned version of itself for the heaviness. This track also evidences the surprisingly varied sound Skálmöld is becoming famed for, featuring death vox, chants, a breakdown with a punishing riff, clean guitar solos and a layered tremolo-picked conclusion. And that’s just one song! There’s also the patented Maiden galloping guitars on “Að vetri” (In Winter), a slower, epic doom influence on “Með jötnum” (“Among Giants”) and an upbeat folk melody on “Að hausti” (“In Summer”), which weirdly reminds me of the opening recorder melody on Moonsorrow‘s “Pakanajuhla.” Nope, just me?
While the variation in styles ensures boredom never becomes an issue, it dilutes the potency of the individual styles Skálmöld can obviously play well. The strongest tracks on the record are those which have more narrow confines and are allowed the time and space to develop. For example, the aforementioned foray into doom on “Með jötnum” begins at about 2:20 with a crushing chord which slams down to interrupt what is otherwise a typical riff. It’s a huge moment and one of the strongest on the record. The song progresses and speeds up once again, but retains the doomy tones and works within itself. “Að sumri” (“In Summer”) is similar, sticking to a rollicking melodeath style, with some stellar riffing and solos. These are unlike a few of the other tracks which seem haphazardly cross-stitched between styles, such as closer “Með griðungum” (Among Bulls”) and “Með fuglum” (“Among Birds”). As good as the musicianship is, the musical ADHD on display here is detrimental to the record.
On that note, the individual performances on the record are very good, despite inconsistencies in style and execution. The three guitars unsurprisingly take centre-stage, with memorable riffs on most tracks like the aforementioned breakdown on “Með drekum” with its punishing tone which feeds into a a cleaner solo is a highlight. Indeed, the drum rhythm on “Með jötnum” is critical to maintaining the dirgey pace and improving the impact of the massive guitar chords.
Accordingly, the mixing does a good job of giving room to each instrument. For example, the folky recorder used towards the end of “Með fuglum” is pleasingly not lost when the guitars re-enter the fray for a dual melody. Nevertheless, the limited DR of 6 compresses the potential for more nuanced and warm textures on the prominent guitars and drums, which would afford greater depth. The production is fairly forgettable, which is criminal when a little more time and effort can significantly enhance the impact of a record.
Með vættum is an accomplished, if slightly uneven, record. The individual styles are executed well, and the instrumentation is of high quality, but how they are ham-fistedly crammed together lets the record down. Nonetheless, the righteous riffing and overall strengths of the record ensure it’s well-worth a listen for fans of the vaguely-defined ‘Viking metal.’