Celebrating cultural heritage is crucial. In a world living in the shadow of Christianity’s obliteration of “pagan” beliefs, the old creeds and rituals are rarer and rarer. As such, it’s imperative to preserve such practices and traditions, valuing their impact in generations past and their influence on future individuals. My family is descended from Vikings, which is pretty badass, but one thing led to another1 and they found themselves Lutheran farmers in North Dakota. Groups like Heilung and Wardruna are committed to preservation and renaissance of the old Norse rituals, and Norwegian/Icelandic duo Golden Core seek to channel this appreciation through new release Fimbultýr by blending American stoner doom and Norwegian black metal. Will Odin leap from the speakers to impale my naive ears with the Spear of Gungnir or will the album join the halls of Valhalla, slain in the Ragnarok of good intentions?
Now, I’m pretty sure I was fawning over some girl and complaining about math class to my bros when I was 17, but the two members of Golden Core have impressively devoted their time to its stoner doom sound instead. Drummer and vocalist Johannes Thor Sandal is 17 years old while guitarist and keyboardist Simen Jakobsen Harstad is 15, the band having formed in 2014,2 and Fimbultýr being their second full-length. Ultimately, while these youngsters offer a theoretically unique take on doom that bubbles with promise, their execution is disappointingly generic and let down by hiccups in songwriting.
To be sure, Golden Core brings the shred: riffs balance fuzz and crunch in equal measure, while influences of post-metal tickle the sonic palette. The sound nonetheless feels engaging and more mature than their ages suggest, channeling other fuzzmeisters like Yatra, Om, or Weedeater. Cuts like the ritualistic title track, the groovy “Hrafnaspa,” and the dynamic “Buslubaen” bring a youthful energy to their otherwise standard stoner doom sound, conjuring the primal barbarism their theme and lyrics suggest. Vocals feel very akin to Aaron Turner of Isis fame, and contemplative post-metal rears its bearded head in portions of the title track and the Izah– or The Ocean-inspired chugs in behemoth “Runatal.” Tracks are best when they can settle on a mood, and the highlights are proof of it.
For much of Fimbultýr in songwriting, less is more. While mammoth “Buslubaen” is a highlight thanks to its patient songwriting, longest track “Runatal” certainly feels its protracted length with identical fuzzy riffs repeated ad nauseam. “Runir Skal Rista” and “Blod,” while not particularly daunting, also fall short with rhythms that do not mesh with the quality of the guitar tone. Strangely, while Fimbultýr promises influences of Norwegian black metal, it appears extremely briefly in the minute-long tremolo-fest of “Villist Vaettir.” While it is nice to see a change-up, it sticks out like a sore thumb for its blatant departure from stoner doom, and questions the duo’s songwriting consistency, a common thread through each letdown, and will be Golden Core‘s greatest challenge going forward.
Ultimately, it’s hard to believe that this duo is as young as it is. The youths these days are so distracted by them new-fangled technology,3 so it’s nice to see such dedication to metal from a couple of young’uns. While the album is far from perfect, as it’s ultimately unraveled by its own ambition, it doesn’t necessarily die brutally in Ragnarok but I don’t feel destroyed by Odin’s might either. Ultimately, Golden Core‘s second full-length feels like much of the stoner doom genre, let down further by its inconsistent songwriting and hit-or-miss tracklist. But the highlights that do shine show much promise for these youngsters, and I foresee great success for them as they march through the hallowed halls of Norse heritage.