|Viking/Pagan metal: An Introduction|
Since many people get confused by both terms, this is a brief attempt to make things clear to those unfamiliar with the genre. The list is in chronological order.
Sign of the Hammer
1982-1984. USA. Manowar's first four albums, released in a rather short time span, introduced the metal world to various viking themed songs. Whilst several other bands already had lyrics dedicated to the rich viking history, this was the first time a band actually SOUNDED (and dressed) like their songtexts would suggest.
Technically, these four albums can be described as proto-viking metal. There were still some non-viking themed tracks on each album (and quite horrible ones too). After the 1984 release of 'Sign of the Hammer', the band would go in a more commercial direction and thus lose their distinctive, atmospheric sound.
1990. Sweden. This is the album that defined viking metal. The predecessor 'Blood Fire Death' already showed heavy traits of viking metal, but this album can be described as the first fully realized entity in the genre. Although Quorthon claimed to never have heard of Manowar before, he admitted that his drummer at the time was a huge fan, which can clearly be heard when comparing the drum patterns of some songs.
Soundwise there were not many black metal elements of former Bathory albums left on Hammerheart, yet the lofi-production and the distinctive vocals of Quorthon remained. The link between black metal and viking themes was established, which led to various other bands in the scene to mix both worlds in the coming years.
1993. Norway. Enslaved took viking themes and lyrics and added the furiosity of norwegian black metal. They remained a force in the genre for the longest time of their career, before slowly shifting towards a more progressive and softer sound with their latest output.
1995. Ireland. Primordials debut album. In 1991, bands like Skyclad already started to fuse folk music with heavy metal, birthing the term 'folk metal'. In 1995, folk elements started to enter the extreme metal scene as well with Ulvers 'Bergtatt' as a prime example.
However, none of these 'folk metal' releases could be labeled 'viking metal', at least not in the sense that they resembled the original vision of 'Hammerheart'. Primordial didn't fit in both worlds. They had folk instruments and melodies, but also the glorious sound and approach of early viking metal. Because they were irish and obviously not of viking heritage, they called their music 'pagan metal' or sometimes more specific 'celtic metal'.
...En Their Medh Riki Fara...
1996. Iceland/Germany. Falkenbach's early demos go back as far as 1989, but this was the first proper full-length of the one-man band. Contrary to Enslaved or Primordial, their songs are mid-paced, rather minimalistic and ultimately closer to the Twilight Of The Gods-era of Bathory than anything else released in the genre before. Another outstanding factor are the clean vocals.
1995. Poland. Can't say I'm a fan of this band, but they are important to the genre nonetheless.
1996. Norway. This has the classic 'Grieghallen' sound of the 2nd wave. Highly recommended.
In The Sign Of The Ravens
1997. Sweden. Very melodic, sometimes bordering on power metal.
The Dawn Of The Dying Sun
1997. Norway. Pure Hammerheart worship. Also sounds a lot like the Immortal debut.
1999. Sweden. One of the first 'fun'-viking metal bands, although they became way darker with subsequent releases. If you're looking for something to get drunk to, give this one a shot.
1999. Norway, Most of the upcoming viking metal bands were (rightly) overshadowed by the norwegian one-man band Windir and their albums 'Soknardalr' (1997) and 'Arntor' (1999). These two albums showed a new quality in melodic approach and technicality, that greatly influenced the beginning scandinavian folk- and pagan-metal scene with the likes of Finntroll, Ensiferum and Moonsorrow. Definitely among the all-time classics of the genre.
Once Sent from the Golden Hall
1998. Sweden. One can hardly talk about viking metal without mentioning Amon Amarth, although they are obviously not viking metal in its original form and weren't the first death metal act to adapt the imagery either.
1993 already saw the release of 'Across the open Sea' by Unleashed, which was the first death metal album to sport viking lyrics and in 1994, Amorphis' 'Tales from the Thousand Lakes' successfully mixed melodic death metal with folk.
Still, Amon Amarth remains an important band for the genre. First, unlike any other death metal band, their early albums actually convey a viking atmosphere that is just as magnificent as those of the classics. Second, they coined the image of a viking metal band just by their stage presence and music videos and hence made the imagery popular for a large number of people.
Amon Amarth's early albums could be described as viking metal/melo death hybrids.
Voimasta Ja Kunniasta
2001. Finland. Moonsorrow remain one of the most important bands in the sector, because of their ability to distill the essence of all the bands that came before them to a unique elixir of their own. In short, all the good that has happened between Hammerheart and now can be heard in their work. 'Voimasta Ja Kunniasta' is their first classic album, followed by many more, earning themselves a place amongst the most consistent bands in metal as a whole.
Just as Primordial, Moonsorrow distanced themselves from the term 'viking metal' and adapted the moniker 'pagan metal'. To clarify, the term basically describes a band playing music in the style of viking metal, that sings about their native pagan history instead.
How Far to Asgaard
2002. Faroe Islands. This genre-bending band is quite unique in its approach to mix their viking folklore with heavy and progressive metal. Their sound differs alot from what has been labeled viking metal before, due the absence of any extreme metal influence. Nonetheless they deserve an entry in this list, for the atmosphere they create will appeal to any fan of the aforementioned bands.
2008. England. Forefather have created their own brand of pagan metal they specify as 'Anglo-Saxon metal'. Their fifth album is a perfectly executed example of the melodic side of the pagan genre, while also being distinctive and original.
2008. Sweden. Pure Bathory 'Twilight of the Gods' worship.
The Voice of Steel
2009. Ukraine. A great example of modern pagan metal done right.
2010. Iceland/Germany. This band effectively killed their career with their band name, but they shouldn't be missed by any fan of the genre. Signed to the magnificent Van Records.
This is basically the pinnacle of the genre as a whole.
Now pour yourself a horn full of mead, put on your historically incorrect viking helmet, jam all these albums and embrace the glory. Hail Oden!