Æther Realm – “Redneck Vikings From Hell” (Napalm Records)
Battle Helm Rating
Somewhere in between Amon Amarth and Alestorm is Æther Realm, who mix Scandinavian melodic death with folk metal along the lines of Ensiferum and Children of Bodom – except they’re not from Scandinavia, but North Carolina! Formed in 2010 with 3 prior full length releases already to their credit, “Redneck Vikings From Hell” is true to its name, although not as jolly as some might assume, being literally soaked to the gills in massive epic emotion through passionate melodies and deep orchestrations that make this release one helluva moving experience. Unashamedly mixing Scandinavian and Southern styles in both their guitars and vocals, the 11 tracks boast a real diversity of sounds – all impressively pulled together thanks to an enviable list of friends assisting like Ben Turk of Gloryhammer, guitarist Greg Burgess (Allegaeon) and voice actress Erica Lindbeck (Final Fantasy VII remake) among the most notable, while Jamie King (Between The Buried And Me, The Contortionist, Scale The Summit) mastered the album. Opening with the epic hillbilly power metal title track of ‘Redneck Vikings From Hell’, expect dancing synth melodies and plenty of catchy singalong moments culminating in the hearty chorus of ‘…we sail the oceans and climb every mountain..we conquer them all..’ as banjos mix with double bass drumming, clanging church bells sound off to galloping hoof beats, and southern drawls completed by a CW McCall CB rap add that final deep fried touch on this absolute barn burner! Bringing in some dramatic symphony to match the pagan furor on ‘Hunger’, slow rasping vocals contrast superbly with jumping epic riffs before huge, beautiful Scandi guitar melodies matched by soulful singing and epic choirs simply take you over, although it’s not over as more keyboard melodies – this time prog – contrasted by tremolo wails, mello death vocals and symphonic choirs finally bring this majestic mix to culmination – wow. With a definite headbang to Alexi Laiho, ‘She’s Back’ unleashes hyper speed chopping riffs, epic guitar melodies, dancing soulful synths and of course harsh vocals in what must be one of the least diverse tracks on “Redneck Vikings From Hell”, although its winning formula definitely makes it one of the catchiest! In complete contrast is ‘Slave To The Riff’, richly mixing southern power grooves to offset its dark symphony through plenty of rhythmic breaks, beautiful heavenly ascending solos and even chucking in a Latin American /Flamenco interlude – cool! Easily the band’s most ambitious achievement to date, “Redneck Vikings From Hell” must rank as one of the best fusion albums this year.