Bloodred – Nemesis (self-released, 08 April 2016)
Sig:Ar:Tyr – Northen (Hammerheart Records, 15 April 2016)
Hey there, ladies and gentlemen of the internet! I hope you’re having an okay start to your week. Typically I’d be talking about how Mondays are so terrible or whatever, but truthfully, I realize that things could be much worse. Around the middle of last week, I experienced a little bit of a minor medical emergency — hospital visit, a couple days away from work, that sort of thing. Everything around here got really disrupted and it kind of sucked, and I can honestly say I’m actually glad to be back to the normal daily routine, however awful and soul-crushing it may be.
Okay, with all of that out of the way, let’s get to the music! I’ve had to shuffle things around a bit since my schedule got so thrown off over the past several days, but we’ll do what we can to get back on track and get to sharing the albums and other news you people need to hear about. Today let’s take a look at a pair of releases from earlier this month, each by a one-member band (although each had some assistance on these recordings), and each having a Viking connection. It has been a month since the last time we talked about Viking metal — don’t forget that Amon Amarth are still in the middle of their North American tour, with a few weeks left — and it seemed like it might be fun to do it again. One of these albums actually includes a reference to the same source material as the Jomsviking album, and the other deals with ancient Viking settlements in North America …
Bloodred, from Oberstenfeld, Germany, is the creation of Ron Merz, who does all of the writing and performs all the vocals and music. On this debut full-length Nemesis, the drums were provided by Joris Nijenhuis (Atrocity, Leaves’ Eyes). It wouldn’t be accurate to characterize the album as “Viking metal,” as not all of the material here explicitly deals with that particular culture — but there is plenty of attention paid to battles, folklore, death, etc.
With the instrumental intro track “Fell Voices on the Wind” (the shortest on the album, around two minutes, whereas all the rest are at least five) setting epic twin guitars against a dark and atmospheric background, it instantly feels like melo-death. But as it turns out throughout the remaining seven songs, we veer into quasi-melodic death territory, but that’s as far as we go. At no point do we hear any clean vocals, nor anything that might be considered a hummable melody; the guitars — often sounding like an almost-blackened buzzing — are definitely closer to Stockholm than Gothenburg in terms of the death metal genre. The vocals throughout Nemesis are a deep growl, sounding like they come from some distance away, but always feeling very savage; the drums are consistently thunderous and relentlessly furious. While some spots — such as the beginning of “The Hail-Storm” and near the end of “Spirits of the Dead” — might include a bit of ambient synth sounds to darken the mood, and even some choir-like sounds in the background, as a whole this album is frenzied and fierce, like a wildly whipping whirlwind.
For a slight change of pace, closing track “Im Kalten Licht der Ewigkeit” (“In the Cold Light of Eternity”) starts out a little slower, but during most of its running length (the longest found here, around eight minutes) it ends up sounding much more like black metal than those that came before (although in many spots the black or blackened-death influence shines through clearly); the atmosphere here is very cold, definitely a fitting sound for a song with this title.
An excellent place to introduce yourself to this album would be via the single “The Hail-Storm” (for which a video complete with lyrics can be viewed just below). This song is based on a poem of the same name that was adapted and translated by English author and linguist George Borrow, retelling a story that was originally part of the Jómsvíkinga saga. (For those especially interested in literary history, there is some further background about the efforts of Borrow and some of his contemporaries to translate a series of Kjæmpeviser (“Heroic Ballads”) from old Danish, in the introduction to this pamphlet that reprinted another of Borrow’s translated ballads. For everyone else, feel free to skip those details, and we’ll just say that the poem (and song) describes a mythical sea battle between rival clans of Vikings, one of whom sacrifices his son to the goddess Þorgerðr (“Thorgerd”); having thus gained her favor his enemies are then crushed by gigantic hail.
The second album we’re discussing today comes from London, Ontario’s Sig:Ar:Tyr, whose name consists of three letters from old Norse runic alphabets, symbols that (among a variety of other meanings) represent chaos, balance, and order. This band consists of a single member known as Daemonskald, although new album Northen (his fourth under this name) sees the addition of Nicholas Ireland on drums and additional rhythm guitar by Michael Grund (both from Battlesoul), as well as Morgan Rider (of Vesperia) on bass.
These nine tracks collectively describe the exploits of Vikings who, already having settled islands in the north Atlantic such as Iceland and Greenland, continued exploring further west, to the mainland of North America — the Canadian coast, and perhaps (artifacts and evidence of their visit are still being discovered) even as far south as the northeastern tip of the United States — about a thousand years before the invention of GPS, Google Maps, and Cell Phones.
Several of the tracks here are named for some of those ancient settlements: Helluland, Markland, Vinland — and virtually all of the material on this album falls into the category of epic blackened metal, befitting the subject matter as well as its historical significance. Several of the songs — “Skraeling,” for example, and the closing ballad “Last Ship Sails” — incorporate classic rock influences (especially in terms of the guitar solos) into their blackened grimness, like Enslaved often does, while in other places — “Helluland” and particularly “Crownless,” as well as parts of other tracks like “Krossanes” — the time signature falls into an epic 6/8 that has characterized some of Primordial‘s best works; similarly, “Vinland” (both its acoustic and classical guitar introduction and much of the rest of the song) employs a 3/4 waltz meter. While I hate to overuse the word “epic,” the structure, atmosphere, and overall feeling of these tracks — nearly all of them close to seven or eight minutes long — honestly just scream out to be described as such.
* * * * * * *