Review Summary: This is music that invites you to fill your drinking horns and let yourself relentlessly go.
Believing one has mistakenly put on a epic Viking tale in audiobook form rather than a desired album has never been a problem for me, that is until I was tasked with "First War Of The World", the fourth album from Germans Black Messiah. I say this with track one, "Prologue - The Discovery", being a three minute spoken story setting the scene in which Odin views his realm in Asgaard, to be horrified by the appearance of a previously unknown race, the Vanir Tribe. I know one word which sums up this track, 'epic', and goes it someway to describe the OTT, however enjoyable, fun, nature of the "First War..."'s remainder.
The album could be argued as split into 4 chapters, each begun with spoken word sections advancing the tale initiated in the introduction. In between is a style of metal hard to define: part Viking/folk/pagan; part power; and part symphonic black metal. The feast of jolly riffs and good-natured pompous symphony may be a credit to the band and album, however try as they may the style chosen falls some way short of creating the atmosphere and feel of vastness epitomised by your Bathory's and Primordial's of this world. So, having stated that this is not the greatest epic metal album since sliced bread, what is good about it? Well, quite a lot actually. Black Messiah may have a sound that varies that bit too much between the aforementioned styles but from the Korpiklaani-tinged "Gullveig" to one of the faster tracks, "Burn Vanaheim", replete with it's infectious chorus that recalls to me Finntoll and more surprisingly, Stratovarius. "First War Of The World" sounds like the overblown extravagance Manowar attempted, and largely failed, with "Gods Of War" and infact appears so staggeringly German even without consideration of the number of tracks sung in their native tongue that Manowar will surely be taking notes, given their increasingly desperate attempts to 'become' a German band with every successive tour and album release.
More than most that attempt such a feat, "First War..." is a journey, transcending different feels from the discovery of the Vanir tribe by Odin to it's inevitable destruction ("The Chase") through the combination of spoken word interludes and the variety in song tones. The opening to "Andacht" and "Soeldnerschwein" show respectively a battle-weary and celebratory vibe, set well as fitting ends to to the album where an epic battle has been the over-riding theme throughout. It is this attention to the 'plot', as well as the catchy magnificence of "Soeldnerschwein" with it's Týr-esque vocal harmonisations that are perfectly designed for the beer tent of any Metal festival.
I'm sure many purists might disagree because of the genre-hopping that is involved in "First War Of The World" and which could do with being controlled more vigorously to create a truly great album, but this is nevertheless a highly entertaining, if clichéd and comical, folk/Viking metal album that offers a good deal of value and musical substance and would be a great addition to any summer festival line-up