Review Summary: Norwegian prodigy's first album sets the scene for more to come....
Both black metal and folk metal have a tendency to transport the listener to another world, whether it be through the frosty, bone-chilling winds of Scandinavian plains, a dark, enchanted forest where shadows lurk, or sailing through the harsh seas of the Viking times. Yes, it sounds corny, but one cannot deny that, all in all, it can lead to a fantastic listening experience.
Myrkgrav, a one-man band formed in 2003, manage to put out a record which does exactly that, its genre falling somewhere roughly in the middle of black metal and folk metal (blackened folk metal, if you like). Lars Jensen, the only constant member, is clearly a very talented musician, performing the vocals, guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, flute and hardanger fiddle on Trollskau, Skrømt og Kølabrenning, and he does a great job on all of them. The vocals particularly are a highlight, sounding very similar to that of Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt in their pre-Still Life era. His harsh vocals add a very cold atmosphere to the album, but at the same time avoid being alienating, as is not the case with a lot of black metal bands. There is also a guest vocalist on this album, named Sindre Nedland, who handles all of the clean vocals. Just like the harsh vocals, the clean vocals are brilliant too, although at times very cheesy. Nedland employs a ‘chanted’ style of vocal delivery, which contributes greatly to the folk sound of the album. An example of this can be found in the chorus of ‘Om A Danse Bekhette’, which is incidentally one of the best of the eleven songs displayed here.
The album also features a ton of tremolo picked riffs, and the duo guitar harmonies fit very well with each other. The tremolo riffs are a real highlight to the album, although the guitars aren’t limited to them. The drumming, although good, is nothing special; Jensen just gets the job done, while the bass is barely audible, bar the bass break in the middle of ‘Olav Tryggvason’. The keyboards also provide some nice synth in the background, as supposed to juggernauting their way into the foreground and allowing the band’s sound to become annoyingly reliant upon them (Dimmu Borgir, anyone?). In particular, the synth in ‘Tre Skygger Tel Kølabrennern Kom’ creates an interesting backdrop, and adds an air of mystery to the song.
The production of the album is perfect; all of the instruments are at exactly the right volume, except for the bass, which is sadly drowned out a lot of the time. The length of the songs and album is perfect too. The songs last long enough to have just the right amount of substance, while being short enough to keep the listener interested. There are a few noticeable negative talking points, however, the first one being that, considering this is a folk metal album, it is predictably cheesy in places, particularly in the clean vocal department. ‘De To Spellemenn’, almost an interlude track, exhibits this, not just in the vocals, but the overall atmosphere it gives off. In fact, the album name itself is almost cringe worthy in its mawkishness; translated into English, it means ‘Trollish Woods, Wraiths and Coalburning’. Another negative point of this album is that the songs seem to have very little variation and all sound a bit ‘samey’ upon listen, and it takes a lot of listens to be able to distinguish between certain songs.
Overall though, Trollskau, Skrømt og Kølabrenning is a fine and very promising debut album from Myrkgrav, and is certainly a very refreshing edition to the seemingly never-ending list of ‘obscure’ black/folk metal bands. It’ll certainly be very interesting to see which direction Myrkgrav take with their next release, but if it is anything like this album, it’ll be one to watch out for, for sure.