Review Summary: One of the best Viking metal albums in a while, doing an excellent job of avoiding the cheesiness so prevalent in the genre.
I have a major soft spot for concept albums. And I always enjoy learning about various mythologies. And I really love bands who can combine the two without seeming overtly cheesy. So when I heard about this album, I was excited. I had already enjoyed Týr's previous work, Eric The Red, and my hopes were high for this. If they could avoid the cheesiness that plagues many of their contemporaries, I couldn't see how they could go wrong.
And avoid it they did, but almost too well. In fact, I found it rather dull on my first few listens. There were a few interesting melodies scattered here and there, and the instrumental medley at the beginning was rather neat. It wasn't really too bad, but nothing grabbed my attention. Except the title of one song: The Rage of the Skullgaffer. Not only that, but the song itself was nothing short of amazing: A wonderful neoclassical song, with brilliant interplay between the guitars. I couldn't understand how they could write a song that awesome, and yet completely trip up on the rest of the album.
But as it turned out, they didn't. The more I listened, the more I heard the heavily folk influenced melodies that exist throughout the album, much as in Eric The Red. They gave it an endearing feel of familiarity, almost like I had heard those songs in a previous life, but had only the faintest remaining memory. Soon I found myself humming their catchy--but not too catchy--choruses throughout the day, sometimes during inappropriate moments. Also helpful was that, unlike some of their other releases, the lyrics were mostly in English, which meant I could follow the storyline easily. However, I was slightly disappointed that the song lengths only averaged about five minutes. Fortunately, they avoided sounding all the same. Some had complex, woven structures, while others stayed more on the catchy side.
The vocals were a real standout. Heri Joenson has perhaps the best clean vocals in the genre; he's something like Viking metal's Roy Khan. Though perhaps not as operatic, and with more of a viking feel to them. Instrumentally, the guitar work is impressive, and they play riffs that feel simultaneously metal and folk, which give it an oddly authentic feel. A few outstanding solos also appear, especially in The Rage of the Skullgaffer. Indeed, problems with the album are very few. But some do exist, especially at the beginning of the album. While The Hammer of Thor is one of my favorite tracks, it's not one that catches you immediately. Starting out the album with a 5 minute instrumental, and a 6 minute complex, hookless song nearly wore out my patience on my first listen. Fortunately, the song immediately following, Brothers Bane, is excellent. You'll need to give this album some time, but overall it's one of the best Viking metal albums in a while, doing an excellent job of avoiding the cheesiness so prevalent in the genre.
Recommended tracks: The Hammer of Thor, The Rage of the Skullgaffer/The Hunt, Wings of Time