Skálmöld – “Sorgir” (Napalm Records)
After the warmth and fuzziness of 2016’s “Vögguvísur Yggdrasils”, viking folk metallers Skálmöld return with something far more cold and morbid in “Sorgir”, literally meaning ‘sorrow’. Formed just under a decade ago in Iceland, Skálmöld have never been ones to rush, preferring to take things in their stride like the rest of their island nation. Balancing the band with full time jobs, writing for this 5th album commenced pretty much after its predecessor, not withstanding the 4 shows they did with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, making a total of 7 if counting the 3 they did five years ago Reykjavik. Totalling some 8 songs, “Sorgir” is conceptually split into two parts, with the first half telling tales of poor mortals facing sorrow, pain and death and being totally Icelandic, the second half telling the same tales from these poor souls, albeit now being ghosts – like, totally morbid!!! Using a multiple vocal attack employing hoarse warrior vocals, pagan screaming, clean traditional singing and nordic choir backing, Skálmöld’s cultural embodiment in their material is reflected in their music, liberally featuring powerful nordic power riffs and equally, beautiful folk melodies along with more conventional metal including double bass drumming, keyboards and even an oboe! Needless to say, the music is rich and bountiful, abundant with plenty of catchiness and aggression, yet also omnipresent with heart stirring passion as amply reflected in the deep songs here. ‘Sverdid’ is typical of the style, commencing with a rolling nordic groove along with ethereal choirs before Björgvin Sigurðsson’s hard vocals herald a slowly building darkness amid some lovely interweaving guitar melodies before the double bass drumming comes in alongside some tortured screaming before returning to its original flow, albeit on a slightly faster tempo. ‘Brunin’ is anything but that, instead a viking hard rocking piece awash with addictive power grooves and gruff vocals, plenty of power riffs, fast wailing solos, and all driven by smashing drum work! Reflected by its opposite ‘Móri’, opening atmospherically, the song builds with ultra catchy cold metallic guitars, contrasted by hard and harmony vocals before the arrival of ethereal female wailings courtesy of drummer Jón Geir Jóhannsson’s mother in law (!) and a blast beating passage with screams that I really hope didn’t come from the other guest – Óttarr Proppé, former minister of health and a singer of HAM, who played Eurovision!!! Closing with the 8 minute ‘Mara’, it’s more of an upbeat nordic rock beat with traditional riffs but also featuring Skálmöld’s first use of the acoustic guitar that heralds a flowing nordic folk groove completed by a beautiful solo from Þráinn Árni Baldvinsson before thundering off to Valhalla in a nordic melodic maelstrom – brilliant! Like their contrasting land of fire and ice, Skálmöld serve it up lushly whether in darkness or light, and “Sorgir” no less touched.