Review Summary: THE essential viking metal release.
Some say Bathory. Some say Enslaved. While those two bands surely helped to establish and lay the concrete for the genre of Viking Metal, it wasn't until 1997 and Mithotyn's debut, "In the Sign of the Ravens", that Viking Metal was truly born.
This album's message is very clear. These guys are not trying to be complex. They are not trying to be progressive. They are not trying to impress you with any ridiculous gimmicks or techniques. No, Mithotyn are simply a band of vikings who are here to play viking metal, and they do a damn good job doing it. This album REEKS of viking/nordic influence.
The atmosphere, of course, is very viking. Think of what you'd find on an early black metal album from norway, but instead of sounding dark, it sounds majestic and mysterious (although it does sound a little dark, too). The production literally paints a picture in your head of a horde of viking ships sailing through a distant fog, the fog in this case being created by the distant tone of the guitar. The raspy vocals display the anger of the vikings, the clean vocals show their passion. everything is mixed just right, the vocals are actually lower than youd expect but this allows the guitars to draw you in and hold your attention, and also makes the vocals sound more vague and mystical. In general there's just such a wierd sound here which intrigues you to keep listening.
In addition to creating the right atmosphere, these guys actually know how to write coherent songs too. Riffs resolve properly, hitting the notes in the second half of a riff that your brain hopes they will upon hearing the first half of the riff. Songs build up slowly to proper climaxes, and every song has an epic moment or two (or about 9 in some cases). Tremolo riffing here is common but used very well, and often times a segment with power chords will trade off for the same riff played tremolo style/with slight other variations, which sounds cool and makes some of the longer sections a lot less monotonous. The drums are also very solid, slow and pounding when they need to be and also lightning quick at times. nothing too fancy or over the top, but fitting and frankly, perfect. Keyboards and other sound effects (the horns on "Freezing Storms of Snow") are also used, but not abused like some bands have a nasty habit of doing. They only compliment the already strong atmosphere.
Every song on here is different. Opener "Upon Raging Waves" does a pretty good job at summing up what the album is about, but each subsequent song pretty much dives into its own realm, and every song has something different to remember it by.
The title track is a stand out, and its chorus with clean vocals harmonized with lower-mixed raspy vocals is a hell of a lot of fun to sing along to.
"Shadows of the Past" and "Embraced by Frost" are simply two of the most epic songs a human ear can absorb, and i wont waste time attempting to have words do them justice. They both slowly unfold to epic masterpieces with strong endings, but both are still totally different and yet equally amazing.
Sandwiched in between them is the beautiful instrumental "Lost in the Mist", with flute and accoustic guitar to give a sense of peace. While not one of the more "epic" songs, this is one of my favorites, and it ends at just the right time. It also has a really cool keyboard interlude in the middle.
Just when "Embraced" ends and you think, "the album surely must end now, because nothing can top that masterpiece!", another highlight, probably THE highlight of the release, "In the Forest of Moonlight" comes on. While arguably containing some of the coolest riffs of the entire album, the real goods are found in the middle of the song, where beethoven makes a guest appearance. this section starts with just a sad sounding guitar and simple bassline (this might be the only point on the album along with the "slides" at the end of "Stories Carved in Stone" where bass can be heard, unfortunately) before the double bass drums come in and launch full speed... almost brings tears to my eyes every time, it really is that good/powerful. Like all the other songs, it simply must be heard for yourself, my words cant do it justice.
While those initial six songs are the strongest, the whole album is extremely solid and worthy of your listen if you REALLY like metal, as every song does have something unique and memorable about it. "Stories Carved in Stone" even features some death vocals at one point, contrasting the sharp rasps heard elsewhere on the album. Also worth mentioning are the two other instrumentals, "Tills Dagen Gryr" and "Let thy Ale Swing", the first of which is mostly just cool sounding viking chants, the second of which is a fun keyboard melody that sounds like it came from an old nintendo game and ends the album on a happy note (and always makes me want to reach for a beer for some reason...). Both of these songs are nice to hear after the long "battles" which come before them.
This might take awhile to grow on some people, for me on the other hand this was one of two albums (the other being At The Gates' "With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness") that actually got me into metal, as until then all i'd heard was the 80s Metallica albums. Boy was my mind blown when i first heard this.
This album will, for lack of better words, make you wish you were a Viking. I still remember how surprised I was when my friend told me that, in fact, this album WASN'T a live recording of an epic viking expedition into unknown waters from a thousand years ago, but really just a musical perfomance by a band called "Mithotyn". To this day i'm still not sure if i really believe him.