Sigur Ros had a big show on the last night of Iceland Airwaves 2012, and a large portion of the festival-goers bought tickets to see the Icelandic sensation. Frankly, we’re not big Sigur Ros fans, so we saved our money and figured we’d find a nice small venue to hang out in, drink some beers (using the money we saved by not buying Sigur Ros tickets), and rock out. And that, my friends, is how we came to experience Skálmöld.
Norberto and I caught them playing a couple of songs at a different venue earlier in the trip, but Holly had never seen them before. In fact, Holly’s experience with live metal shows was really limited, and she’d never seen one at a small, full venue. So there was some excitement as the six members of Skálmöld situated themselves on the awfully small stage at Gamli Gaukurinn. The roughly 200 people in the crowd were packed in fairly close, and it was obvious that many of them were big fans. And then the band started to play. And heavy metal exploded throughout the room. And it was good. No, it was great. I’ve never seen another band that looks like they’re having more fun than Skálmöld – fun playing together, fun interacting with the crowd, fun dropping that heavy metal hammer. A small group of guys with really long hair were headbanging off to one side, while a rather well behaved mosh pit formed in front of the stage. From our vantage point in the back corner of the venue (which is all of 25 feet from the stage) you could see the heads bobbing and the fists clenched as the fans fed off the band’s energy and music.
So what of the band’s 2012 release, Börn Loka? Well, it’s their second full length album (their first, Baldur, was originally released in 2009), and while I don’t have their first effort as a point of comparison, based on the strength of Börn Loka I’m going to need to check it out. The album’s title translates to “Loki’s Children”, and for those of you who weren’t paying attention in mythology class (if you were even lucky enough to learn anything at all about classic Greek, Roman, and Nordic mythology in school…) Loki was the son of Odin, brother of Thor. He was known as a cunning trickster who was always screwing around and messing with his fellow gods, and who actually fought against them at the end of days, Ragnarök (I knew all that mythology reading and Dungeons & Dragons would come in handy some day!). In keeping with the theme, all 10 tracks relate in some way to Norse mythology, which is fitting given the style of music Skálmöld plays.
Skálmöld describes their style as “battle metal”, and I’ve seen others call them “Viking folk metal”. Both are pretty apt. But if I was going to try to explain their music to you, I’d probably forego the labels and say it this way. If one of the songs on Börn Loka were in a movie, you’d know when the song came on that somebody was about to get what they had coming to them. It’s the music you hear when the hero, who has been beaten down and lost everything that he held dear, comes back for revenge. He’s on his horse, he has some buddies riding with him. There are probably swords and battle axes. Someone is about to get served, and you can’t wait to see how it all goes down. It’s Arthur’s knights riding out of Camelot to face Mordred; it’s Conan against the forces of Thulsa Doom (but not Queen Taramis and Dagoth, because Conan the Destroyer was kind of lame); it’s the final battle in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; it’s Wyatt Earp against the Cowboys; it’s the Nerds against the Jocks in Revenge of the Nerds. Get some! Skálmöld is metal, no doubt. But I don’t think of their music as thrash, or speed, but more “epic”. Not in the way we tend to use the term today to just mean really awesome (though it IS really awesome), but as in an epic tale. That being said, any band featuring a three-guitar attack has plenty of speed and plenty of metal.
The entire album is solid from top to bottom, though a couple of tracks really stick out for me. “Gleipnir” has a cool intro that sounds almost Celtic both in its pacing and instrumentation, before breaking out into a metal onslaught. It’s a distinctive track, and the opening chords always make me stop what I’m doing for a couple of seconds to absorb it. “Himinhrjóðu” isn’t so much a song as some evil force being killed… quite literally – the music is atmospheric and at the end it sounds like something getting hacked to pieces. My favorite track is “Miðgarðsormur”, which has folkish, chanting lyrics at parts that both set the mood and the pace. This is real swords and sorcery stuff.
If you’re into metal, Skálmöld is for you. Musically they’re solid, even featuring a keyboard player (don’t be a hater – their keyboard player rocks) who also plays the oboe. Good luck finding that somewhere else. Their song composition is excellent, and they do a great job in using different vocal styles to fit the mood – chanting, harmony, and just flat out metal growling. Both Börn Loka and Baldur are available on iTunes, so you have no excuse, metalheads. Get your hands on some Skálmöld and release your inner Viking.