Vögguvísur Yggdrasils is the fourth full-length from Iceland’s most (only?) notable Viking metal band, Skálmöld. I’ve formerly criticized this genre tag in my review of the album’s predecessor but ultimately conceded that it was a neater way of describing the number of influences at play in their energetic interpretation of Northern European mythology. Similar streaks can be heard here too, but Vögguvísur Yggdrasils is a more musically consistent record by comparison. This works for and against them, but it’s, unfortunately, less memorable as a whole.
Operating under this broad tag that is Viking metal, Skálmöld utilize a few of the tropes of the genre as a base. Burly chants and elegant choirs adorn proceedings at choice moments and a range of instrumentation typical to this genre but not metal generally is employed, including strings, horns, and other wind instruments. Heroic leads and authoritative power chords resonate, bringing to mind swords, shields, and a good pillage. This is executed with a split of brutality and melody similar to melodic death metal – Maiden guitar harmonies feature but with greater distortion and the vocals are principally harsh shouts. And yet, as before, the writing strongly evokes power metal more than anything. It’s up-tempo, prefers joviality to solemnity and avoids self-importance. The range of vocal styles referenced above, including occasional shrieks, contribute to this pace. Though each has their own passages they’re judiciously deployed in layers or, at one point on “Vanaheimur,” in quite a nifty call and response.
All this is essentially orientated around riffs. Chugging grooves will get your head going and the harmonies usually heighten the music well. One of the best examples is “Álfheimur” which slows the pace and opens with an epic melody. In fact, most tracks open with effective riffs and consequently have a decent initial impact. Moreover, the compacting of guitar lines and layers into something like a wall of noise on “Ásgarður” makes for an impressive set-piece unheard elsewhere. “Vanaheimur” stretches from mere guitar-focus to something interesting too. It operates as the long closer and features an extended interlude with an organ before a very gradual crescendo back into the main track. The slow additions of instrumental layers which are appropriately simple is a highlight of the album.
It is unfortunate, then, that Skálmöld are unable to convert these good riffs and the occasional broader composition into more compelling songs. Much of this can be attributed to the material’s pace. Vögguvísur Yggdrasils rhythmically stagnates from a couple of tracks in when it doesn’t seem as if the tempo of rhythms is significantly distinct. There is some variation but only when comparing side-by-side – the sensation on an average listen is one of similarity. This is partially why the slower introduction to “Álfheimur” stuck out to me. Indeed, the initially great riff leading this track is blunted through repetition. And again picking at what should have been the highlights, the interlude in the aforementioned “Vanaheimur” itself goes on for too long.
Also hindering the memorability of individual tracks are the underwhelming choruses. They’re only notable on “Múspell,” “Niðavellir” and “Vanaheimur” and outside this, I couldn’t really recall particular vocal melodies. Melodeath or power metal with which I’ve compared the band often excels in this aspect but the only instrument producing catchy passages is the guitar. A few more choruses to engage the listener would go a long way. And while no track is categorically bad, a couple suffer from this sense of averageness worse than the others – “Útgarður” and “Helheimur” for example (the latter does improve in its conclusion to be fair).
If you enjoy a good riff there is essentially plenty to enjoy on Vögguvísur Yggdrasils. But outside these I found the songs to be pleasant rather than good; inoffensive rather than rebellious. I distinctly recall that it was the more epic cuts and diverse compositions on the preceding album which stood out to me (for better and worse) and such assortment is only evidenced by “Ásgarður” and “Vanaheimur” here. The cliché is that Vikings were wild. This is not.