Ereb Altor, the other project by the men behind Isole, are back to wage the next phase of the battle for my favoritism. I enjoy both acts and it seems with each new release my loyalty shifts, with Isole‘s recent The Calm Hunter putting me back in their camp, at least temporarily. Where Isole goes for a classic doom style, Ereb Altor strives for an epic Viking doom sound heavily blended with black metal. They’ve produced some big moments and when they hit their stride, they walk with the frost giants of old like Hammerheart era Bathory. Nattramn offers the usual product, but this time the results are a little more inconsistent than usual, with great tunes alongside lesser ones. It’s far from a bad release, but it doesn’t have the continuity fans have become accustomed to.
Things definitely kick off with gusto after a short intro, with “Midsommarblot” standing as one of the best Ereb Altor songs ever. It’s exactly the kind of epic, larger-than-life ode to all things cold and Nordic that you’d expect, but the sheer power, beauty and bombast of it all impresses anew. There’s a ton of emotion in the clean vocals and Viking-like chanting and the whole piece drips with grandiose mood, grim melancholy and icy strength. This one immediately moved into the frontrunner position for Song of the Year in the Book of Steel.
Sadly, sometimes a masterstroke can become an albatross, and because of the general awesomeness of “Midsommarblot,” the remainder of Nattramn struggles to meet the listener’s resultant high expectations. The title track starts off airy and dark like old Tiamat before settling into a mid-tempo black metal pummel. It’s more than adequate with interesting moments like the rousing, raise-the-swords segment at 3:00, but overall it feels flat following such a monumental opener. The band course corrects on “Dance of the Elves” which is another stellar cut, this time marrying heroic singing with blackened croaks and employing a doom sound loaded with grandeur and polish approaching that of While Heaven Wept and Solitude Aeturnus. The singing here is particularly effective and gripping and the song leaves quite a mark.
Things continue well enough from there with the haunting, Bathory-esque roil of “Dark Waters” and especially the weighty doom of “Across the Giant’s Blood,” but again, nothing comes close to the majesty of the album’s early moments. Things bog down a bit during lengthy closer “The Nemesis of Frei” and though the band leaps between chant-heavy doom, blazing black metal and folk metal, the song struggles to hold interest at times.
As always, the focal point is the vocal work, and Mats and Ragnar excel at both the forlorn doom singing and the demonic rasping. The singing in particular grabs at the listener and there’s no shortage of feeling and emotion here. The abundance of textbook ohhhhh-ohhhhh chanting is also effective and conjures images of towering, snow-covered summits and vast frozen environs. The guitar-work (also by Mats and Ragnar) continues to mesh Viking era Bathory with traditional doom and black metal ideas and as usual, it works more often than not. The song writing gets weak at times, but the core Ereb Altor sound is never an issue.
At 42 minutes, Nattramn is a concise listen, and though some songs could lose a minute here and there, self-editing isn’t a huge issue and the album has a sneaky way of growing with repeat spins. The production is a bit muddy at times, but if you go back and listen to Hammerheart, you’ll see they are just keeping true to their influences as good Vikings should.
Not a disappointment by any stretch, but despite a few of their best songs, Nattramn is a come down from recent works like Gastrike and Fire Meets Ice. I Guess I’ll be making myself comfortable in Camp Isole for the time being and extending my cable subscription. Next time guys, next time.