Fimbulvet – Portale Review

Promising Paganistic black metal, and a single that at least piqued my curiosity, I had hoped that Germany’s Fimbulvet might execute on the rousing, fist-pumping feel of my favorite Viking and folk metal bands. I was surprised to find that their new record, Portale, is released close to the band’s 20th anniversary, being their fifth full-length but first in 9 years. There’s a lot to be said about a storied band but equally a lot to be said for a storied band that I’ve not encountered. No prior knowledge of a group with such a history immediately rings alarm bells for me; is this a case of not good enough to amass a following, but not bad enough to throw in the towel? Even the cover art depicting red nothingness didn’t scream distinction. But woe betide those that impart pre-judgment so I began my first listen with an open mind.

Pagan-themed black metal is frequently and detrimentally long-winded. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with Portale, boasting a trim 46 minutes for its 10 tracks. The song-writing has a punchy directness, built around bold core riffs. I admire tight songwriting which plays with just a few verses and a few choruses before doing the honorable thing and fucking off. And the instrumentation is just as tight as the songwriting, contributing to the speedy tone and tempo. The riffs offer a satisfactory split between the emotive rawness of melodic black metal (“Feuertod”), the percussive rhythms of thrash metal (“Krieg der Ratten”) and the exaggerated theatricality of classic metal (“Neiding”). Moreover, many tracks feature guitar solos that belie serious technical chops, shredding in a way that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dragonforce record. Fimbulvet are a far cry from the long-winded folksy black metal that has come to characterize the Pagan sub-genre.

Nonetheless, while the musicianship is extremely convincing, not much else is. Overall, I finish a session with Portale nonplussed. The riffing power required for me to take note is present but beyond that initial impact, the melodies are typically more average than great. I find that chunks of the album progress pleasantly enough, but fail to leave a real mark on me. No doubt this is compounded by moments of dynamism that are intended to refocus the listener but are themselves dreary. “Schwelle zur Inbrunst” offers a predictably-unnecessary acoustic introduction, while “Wie ein Blatt im Wind” is the equally-uninspired acoustic interlude. The latter comes too late on the record to split it effectively and loops 2 core melodies to the point of boredom until it feebly fades out. Even the 2 types of track evident throughout, some of which are verse/chorus and some of which flow less predictably, don’t have sufficiently interesting song-writing to enthuse me.

Portale has plenty that’s good on paper; from the varied guitar leads, through the concise songwriting to the robust vocals. But my overall response is that the album is less than the sum of its parts, not least due to flat production which sands off any edge and leaves something that just sounds unexciting. The music lacks the raw edge of black metal but isn’t dynamic and pretty enough to accentuate the folksier tendencies. The production is serviceable but unpolished, falling into a dissatisfying middle ground where no particular aspect is truly accentuated. Fimbulvet sound toothless, lacking the tonal or musical edge required to take their music from okay to good.

Sadly, the quality I described in the introduction (“not good enough to amass a following, but not bad enough to throw in the towel”) rings true for Fimbulvet. Portale isn’t without merit but it’s unremarkable and lacking in real quality. I’m not compelled to pump my first, nor dive into the band’s discography to investigate what I’ve missed for 20 years. At a stretch, those particularly into melodic black metal may gain more given that little here is particularly bad, but for everyone else this is skippable.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Trollzorn
Websites: | |
Releases worldwide: April 28th, 2023

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