Now and then readers send me music recommendations, to which I always listen in the hope of discovering something new, interesting and enjoyable. Even if I don’t necessarily like what they recommend, it helps stretch my musical boundaries and keep me from staying in the same old rut.
One such recommendation came from reader Badfrog a few weeks ago. He sent a link to a video on YouTube. It’s from Icelandic group Skálmöld, who are described by Wikipedia as “a Viking / folk metal band”.
The band’s name is literally translated as Age of Swords and also means “lawlessness”, referring to the Age of the Sturlungs of Icelandic history, when a civil war broke out between the country’s family clans.
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From the beginning, Skálmöld’s intention has been to combine the sounds of the traditional Icelandic music and metal. Initially, the band planned to use a lot of folk instruments, but soon decided to scale back and have three guitar players instead. The band’s influences include such metal bands as Metallica, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Slayer, Amon Amarth and Ensiferum, as well as Jón Leifs, the classical Icelandic composer. Skálmöld’s lyrics, written by Snæbjörn entirely in Icelandic, are inspired by the Norse mythology and Icelandic sagas. Furthermore, the lyrics conform to some of the Old Norse poetic forms, including fornyrðislag and sléttubönd.
All the band members are members of the heathen organisation Ásatrúarfélagið. Jón Geir Jóhannsson explained the way they believe in the Norse gods: “You shouldn’t personify them. It’s not people, it’s stories that represent human nature. So yes, the ethics are there, but we don’t believe in them as ‘persons’.”
There’s more at the link.
I freely admit, I don’t like their vocal style. Their lyrics are sung in a hyper-aggressive growling tone typical of a lot of thrash metal groups, which I find grating and unpleasant on the ear. On the other hand, their melodies are undoubtedly inspired by both the folk and the classical traditions, and make interesting listening. Judge for yourself in this live performance (with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra) of the group’s composition “Kvaðning” (which Google Translate renders as “Query” or “Question”).
The track is taken from the group’s 2013 live album “Skálmöld Og Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands” (“Skálmöld with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra”). The group also has five studio albums to its credit. Many tracks are available on YouTube. Here, for example, is the song “Vanaheimur” from their 2016 album “Vögguvísur Yggdrasils” (which translates as “Cradle of Yggdrasil” or “Yggdrasil’s Cradle” – it appears to refer to the branches of the fabled tree of Norse mythology as the cradle of the life or lives that depend on it).
My verdict? I like their melodic lines, and the innovation of blending the Viking and folk rock genres (or, more accurately, sub-genres). I dislike (and I mean really dislike) their vocal style; to me, its grating violence ruins the music behind the lyrics. There are clearly many who disagree with me, or the group (and the many thrash metal groups like them) would not survive and thrive as they do. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear an album of their music without the vocal track. I think an instrumental version would be much more enjoyable to my old-fashioned ears.
I leave it to you to make up your own mind. Meanwhile, thanks to reader Badfrog for broadening my musical horizons. This was an intriguing diversion.