When you’re bored, as I very, very much am, do something else. Use the bold setting on your coffee maker. Don’t be so picky about restaurants’ sanitation grades. Wipe with your weak hand. Might as well, right? What got you here won’t be what gets you there. Vanir know a bit about that. After three doots on the folk metal flute, the Danes bulked up with 2016’s Aldar Rök, adding another axe to the ever-growing Viking metal hordes. I always applaud a pivot; if you’re not improving, you’re dying. But with Vanir‘s first attempt not exactly summoning my Bifrost, my expectations for Allfather are tempered.
Though Vanir‘s lyrical focus defies expectation—ye olde Danish king Svend Tveskæg is Big Poppa today, not Odin—the music does anything but. “Væringjar” opens with a pep in its step, like an attack-oriented Amon Amarth browbeat into not brooding through the entire banquet for once. The hook isn’t spectacular, and sonically Vanir stand as the one millionth chosen by the gods, not a torch bearer. “Svoldir” and “The Final Stand” threaten with electricity in the air and a rumble overhead, but rarely does the hammer crash down with full force. Nearly nine minutes of development should give “Ironside” at least one climax in that category. Instead, follow-up “Shield Wall” steals that thunder, likely because its beef sits in the white bread sandwich of “Ironside” and the regrettable cleans of “Fejd.” Midway through the record, Allfather‘s chronic boredom is both apparent and inescapable; by the end, hanging upside down from a tree for nine days sounds more appealing than repeat listens.
Vanir sport an understanding of how to craft Viking metal but stop short of moving past imitation into something intriguing. Most tracks ride the Viking metal Tilt-A-Worldsnake, lollipop in one hand, Mimir’s severed head in the other. The deviants on the listing mean well, but they’re more spinning mead cups than Big Thunder God Mountain. Manowar cover “Thor (The Powerhead)” earns points for hiding shadows of Vanir‘s past as an acolyte at the feet of Finntroll and Svartsot, but the album is already too long without it. Martin Holmsgaard Håkan’s one-of-a-million growls; the chilly pastiche woven by Team Frost Axe, right down to the tickles of Immortal on “Fejd;” the plain Janus (just go with it) song selection; Allfather‘s entire identity screams been there, beheaded that.
It’s tough to pinpoint Vanir‘s root problem. Is it the length? Maybe, but with tracks as patently mediocre as these, the 40-Minute Rule likely couldn’t save them. Is it the saturation of the scene? That definitely plays a role. “Ulfhednar” and “Einherjer” salvage what they can—the former crushes draugr skulls like a pelt-clad Hypocrisy, the latter opens up the floor for a Týrian romp—but blackening and folkening aren’t exactly new territory, and their limited use spices Vanir‘s mead up only a hair. Plus, those highlights come buried at the ass end of an hour that already moves at a glacial pace. At the end of
the day time, Allfather‘s ho-hum material will be tepid and hookless, regardless of how many bands have attempted the same thing. That uninspiring quality lies at the center of Allfather‘s failings, though figuring out what exactly is amiss is still a messy task.
Of all the genres, Viking metal feels the most tired to me—it’s been over twenty years of increasingly well-worn paths and even Amon Amarth set out from the heart of the mountain for uncharted lands. That only makes Vanir‘s sudden turn into by-the-numbers Viking metal all the more confusing. Vanir‘s earlier folk entries never set the world on fire, but splashed across a Viking snowscape, they might have crafted something less… boring. Heidevolk and Týr‘s lawyers might have been on the phone, but since Amon Amarth clones lost the battle versus the world’s attention long ago, what’s the harm? Instead, Allfather does the same old thing in the same old way. That might sate their thirst for blood, but it only heightens mine.