Skálmöld – “Vögguvísur Yggdrasils” (Napalm Records)
Often overshadowed by their more famous counterparts in Amon Amarth and Ensiferum, Skálmöld have been delivering the folk / viking mettle respectably since 2009 despite hailing from the remoteness of Iceland! One of the reasons for their loyal following is their steadfastness in holding true to their Norse heritage, from singing in their native language to their Icelandic lyrics, all drawn from Norse mythology and the Icelandic sagas. Likewise, this 4th release continues that tradition, this time focusing on the Nine Worlds, from fiery Muspellsheim to frozen Nifelheim – all held together by world tree Yggdrasil. The actual title “Vögguvísur…..” seems to translate to ‘lullabies’ (!) but don’t be expecting any bedside cradle songs! From Björgvin Sigurðsson’s ugly, hoarse vocals to their heavy backdrop, Skálmöld play it like their viking ancestors rowed into battle and Valhalla! That said, there’s plenty of rich melodies and some serious composition, with the 9 tracks almost coming across as mini concertos, each superbly crafted to meet the mood of the Nine Worlds they are bringing to us! ‘Nidavellir‘ is the home of the dwarves and so has a hard working pace centered around a catchy folk melody backed by vocal harmonies, iron smelting effects and a dual guitar warble closely akin to Metallica’s ‘Jump In The Fire’! ‘Asgardur‘ is of course, home of the gods, and the noble, theatrical vocals along with rich dual guitars and ensuing lengthy solos build to a climax worthy of the immortals themselves! ‘Helheimur‘ speaks for itself in being the fastest, most brutal track reflecting the deathly underworld complete with hellish screams from which it is aptly named. However, ‘Vanaheimur‘ was the one that really grabbed me. Named after the race of gods closely linked to nature and also very close to the world of men, this was a befitting 9 minute epic on which to end this deep and meaningful album. Probably closer to a film score, with stirring warrior choruses and quiet, passionate passages building movingly thanks to Gunnar Ben’s atmospheric keyboards, it brought forth the warm embrace of light as the good and valiant were welcomed into the hallowed halls of the dead. A true achievement indeed.