Review Summary: Encompassing all that is Scandinavian folk music and Viking metal, Manegarm anchors their place in the annals of Scandinavian metal history with this outstanding addition to their already monumental discography.
Perhaps the best-kept secret of the Swedish metal scene, Manegarm
has been chasing the moon since 1995, improving their sound every step of the way. With their raw folk-tinged black metal beginnings in Nordstjarnans Tidsalder
to the pursuit of a heavier traditional, Swedish folk sound with Dodsfard
, Vredens Tid
, and now Vargstenen
, Manegarm gradually replaced blast beats, shrieking, loose drumming and guitar playing, and lethargic, mediocre folk sounds with more cohesive combinations of clean chanting, growling, tighter, more technical playing, and more focused, authentic-sounding folk melodies. Manegarm’s consistency in the improvement and refinement of their sound has resulted in their finest release yet: Vargstenen
If at all possible, Manegarm puts even more
emphasis on the folk sound in this album. This is most likely attributed to their release of Urminnes Havd - The Forest Sessions
, a purely traditional Swedish folk EP, in 2006. Instead of having the violins merely backing a riff or a solo, Vargstenen
features full violin solos and even points at which the guitars seem to be backing the violin. In fact, one of the highlights of the album is the insanely fast and melodic violin solo in “I Underjorden”.
In addition to fitting with the guitars, the violins compliment the vocals, as well. Specifically in “Nio Dagar, Nio Natter”, the violin melodies over Grawsio’s vocals are phenomenal. But songs such as “Visioner Pa Isen” where the violins bring every single portion of the song together and fit so well with each instrument, from their harmonic fiddling over the power-driven main riffs to the soft, tranquil background they create during the acoustic interlude, are what epitomize the folk metal sound.
As in all Manegarm releases, the lyrics are entirely in Swedish, further contributing to an authentic folk metal feel. The concept of Vargstenen
is similar to that of Vredens Tid
in that it focuses more on the folklore aspect of Scandinavian culture. This is a refreshing transition from the subjects that typically dominate the Folk/Viking metal genre such as Norse mythology and Viking history. This is one of the main contributing factors that sets Manegarm apart from most other bands of the genre.
Aside from the noticeable use of female vocals in a few tracks reminiscent of those on Urminnes Havd
, there isn’t much on Vargstenen
that sets it apart from their three previous releases. There is, however, an observable reduction of harsh vocals and an increase in clean vocals. Whether or not the increase in clean vocals is supposed to compliment the increase in the use of the violin is uncertain. This is where my only complaint lies with Vargstenen
. Where harsh vocals should have been sung over violin-backed riffs, such as in “Vedergallningens Tid”, clean vocals were used. As a result, the vocals are not always appropriate at certain moments, sometimes hurting what were, otherwise, perfect songs.
Although the guitars occasionally take a backseat to the violins, playing a rhythm instead of a melody, they do have their stand out moments. Songs like “En Fallen Fader” and “Visioner Pa Isen”, where the riffs drive the intense parts of the songs and offset the serene acoustic, violin, and vocal passages are what contribute so well to the balance within the songs. The guitars also prevent some songs from becoming completely dominated by the folk instruments, which is something that other bands (Korpiklaani) seem unable to accomplish.
Like in all folk metal albums, the drums are essential in Vargstenen
. The beat of a drum, more than anything, seems to establish some type of brief, primal connection with the past. This certainly doesn’t change in folk metal where the drum beats can make or break the authenticity of any folk interlude. In both the folk and the metal tracks, the drums compliment the violins well in both environments. On occasion, blast beats are used to favor the faster moments of the album, as in “Us Sjalslig Dod”. The drums further contribute to the overall sense of balance by interjecting where one component seems to be controlling a particular section.
is a can’t-miss album, especially for those fans of Folk/Viking metal. As reiterated throughout the review, balance and authenticity are the most important qualities of this album as they should be for any folk metal release. While still maintaining a wholly indigenous folk sound, Vargstenen is still a crushing metal album, never showing any signs of fabricated or overly forced elements. More importantly, however, Manegarm proves that native folk instruments belong
in metal which is and always should be, the ultimate goal of any folk metal band.
Ur Sjalslig Dod
Visioner Pa Isen
En Fallen Fader