Review Summary: Tired of plain old black metal? Sick of those silly folk metallers chugging away with their goofy melodies? Just looking for something new? Well here's Windir! Try it out today!
On one hand you’ve got the typical black metal band: look at that lead singer clad in his studded leather, face all covered with layer upon layer of carefully applied corpse paint. He and his band mates hastily etch a blood-red pentagram on the floor. Only the light of candles illuminates their pre-show ritual. They join hands, beseeching Satan for his blessing (they also put in a good word for their fellow guitarist who was apprehended last Tuesday night for setting fire to a church). They look so pure like that, heads bowed, huddled together. On the other hand, you’ve got your group of jolly folk metallers. They merrily quaff the ales of olden times, strumming their acoustic guitars and chanting arcane pagan rites. It’s a grand old time among these guys too, isn’t it" Well, right smack dab in the middle is Windir, blending the eerie, dark atmosphere of the first gaggle of Satan’s finest with the upbeat tunes and good cheer of the second group of would-be Vikings. Such a unique combination ends up making for a jolly good time, indeed.
The year is 1994, and being in a musical rut of sorts, Valfar has decided to take his artistic vision in a completely new direction. Extricating himself from the trite black and death metal scenes of his native Norway, he opts to start his own band, free from the hampering influences of subpar musicians. Thus, Windir, meaning “warrior” in English, is born. Performing and composing all music, Valfar quickly cuts two demos by the names of Sognariket
and Det Gamle Riket
. The recording quality may have been poor at best, but nonetheless it was something fresh, and metal enthusiasts received the demos warmly. In ’96 the gods smiled on Valfar once more, gracing him with a record deal from Norway’s own Head Not Found / Voices of Wonder Records, guaranteeing the release and distribution of two full-length albums. In January of ’97, Valfar made his way into the studio and after a mere four days (I’m not even kidding) he exited having completed his first full length, Soknardalr
. Again, Valfar composed and performed all of the music, excluding drums, which were performed by some unidentifiable session musician it seems. Let’s get to the music.
As aforementioned, this album is the result of a clash of two different styles of music: black and folk metal. Well, maybe “clash” isn’t the best word to describe the outcome, because it ends up being an interesting and rewarding listen. The black metal influences are perhaps the easiest to identify. The frantic tremolo picking and the hazy, far away sound of the guitars simply reek of black metal. The keyboards also contribute largely to the music’s black metal feel; their ghostlike, eerie synth sounds make for chilling atmosphere. The keys also appear as the sound of an organ and, on the album’s closing track, “Likber,” as the soothing croon of strings. The vocals also bring a good amount of atmosphere to the table. Add a little reverb to Valfar’s terrifying screams, and what you’d hear might sound like a vocal track from Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse
that ended up on a different album. Valfar’s clean vocals are also top notch. Typically following along with the melody provided by the guitars or keys, these vocals have a soft, reverent quality about them that really sticks out given the darkly atmospheric context in which they are found.
The folk metal elements of the music are also quite prevalent. The guitars spend a large amount of time playing catchy, melodic riffs that one could find on an Ensiferum record. These leads, when combined with the support of the keyboards, on “Det Som Var Haukareid” for instance, make for some really groovy music. On some tracks, the guitars chug away with galloping rhythms that also sound reminiscent of a folk metal release, fierce chord progressions and all. Scattered throughout the album are other flourishes of folk influences, acoustic guitar interludes accompanied by spoken word, and there’s even a hilarious kind of demonic fireside hoedown section in “Sognariket Sine Krigarar.” As Valfar yells “Yee-ha!,” the drums groove along with a two beat feel, and the guitars wail away. It kind of makes you want to dance.
It’s true, there are a lot of great things going on with this album, but it’s more than a stone’s throw away from perfection. Each song has quite a bit of repetition, and by the song’s end, the once catchy leads start to get just the slightest bit old. Valfar’s approach to music is an interesting one for sure, but it’s of such consistency that there isn’t a whole lot of variation between the individual songs. Also, the recording quality isn’t poor, each instrument is perfectly audible, but its distant sound detracts from some of the energy that the music would have were it just a bit crisper. As a result, the songs and the entire album seem to go on for much longer than they actually do. These are downsides of note, but the album is still a great listen, and fans of black metal’s ambience and folk metal’s upbeat riffing will most likely find something to enjoy.