Skálmöld – “Vögguvisur Yggdrasils” (2016)

So we’re back home after an 11 day trip to Sweden and Iceland, and everything that needed to be done upon our return is finally finished, so I find myself with a few hours left in the afternoon the day before I go back to work.  So what to do?  Well, seems like the perfect time to pull the first of the records I picked up on this trip off the shelf and give it a spin.  And what better way to start than with the newest release by Icelandic viking-metallers Skálmöld.

Skálmöld has made my Top 5 “Best Of” year end lists twice, first with Börn Loka and then again with Skálmöld Og Sinfóniuhljómsveit Íslands.  Will they make another visit to the Top 5 new releases with Vögguvisur Yggdrasils?  Well, I’m about to find out.

skalmoldvogguvisur

A friend of mine told me that Vögguvisur Yggdrasils is a bit different than previous Skálmöld albums, but right out of the gate I’m feeling the need to don a horned helmet and pillage Scotland.  The second song, “Niflheimur – Hèr Sefur Ís,” hit me like a war axe blow to the head with all the classic Skálmöld hallmarks – assaulting guitars, growled vocals with a melodic interlude, then driving to a relentless finish.  After two songs I’m falling in love with Vögguvisur Yggdrasils.

The overall theme of the album falls into the realm of Norse mythology as does much of the band’s work.  Yggdrasils is the tree that connects the nine worlds in the Norse mythos, and each of the nine tracks is named after one of those nine worlds, so it seems a safe bet that’s the overarching theme.  Pretty cool and makes me wish I understood Icelandic so I could follow along.

The early tracks “Múspell” (realm of fire) and “Niflheimur” (realm of ice) are the two hardest on Vögguvisur Yggdrasils, and from there the album becomes more sonically varied and less reliant on pure in-your-face power.  That’s not to say that the band goes soft on us – songs like “Niðavellir” (home of the dwarves) has some driving guitars and aggressive vocals, but it’s not all pure tests of strength and manhood.  The album isn’t the full-on sonic assault that was 2014s Með Vættum, instead bringing more of the Celtic element and vocal harmonies to the mix.

Napalm Records produced multiple versions of Vögguvisur Yggdrasils, with at least three different colors of vinyl released, all limited to 400 copies or less.  And I lucked out because my friends over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records put aside a signed copy for me following the band’s record signing event at the store.  I’m not normally a big time autograph guy, but this is pretty cool.

I definitely give Vögguvisur Yggdrasils two thumbs up.  I only wish it came with a download card so I could listen on my iPod as well.  I may have to order a digital copy, because it’s that good.

Skálmöld – “Skálmöld Og Sinfóniuhljómsveit Íslands” and “Með Vættum”

It’s been just over two years since the first time I heard Skálmöld.  While most of those in Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves 2012 were at the big Sigur Rós show on Sunday night, we were hunkered down at Gamli Gaukurinn to see a few bands and close out the festival.  Skálmöld was the first metal band my wife had ever seen live.  And she loved it.

Skálmöld put out two releases in 2014.  The first was a CD/DVD of a live show they did in Reykjavik’s opera house, Harpa, in November 2013, a two hour extravaganza that featured the band backed by a full orchestra and not one but two choirs, which, given their epic style of metal, was a perfect accompaniment.  The other was their third full length album, the very recently released Með Vættum, which is so new that the record stores in Reykjavik only had it on CD when we first arrived in town for Airwaves last week, not getting stock of the vinyl until after the festival was already underway.  I couldn’t wait and bought both CDs as soon as we arrived.

Skálmöld Og Sinfóniuhljómsveit Íslands

DSCF1356

The whole heavy metal band playing in front of an orchestra thing has been done before, perhaps most famously by Metallica all the way back in 1999, so it’s nothing new.  And while it’s certainly true that metal and classical music have WAY more in common that most fans would choose to admit (especially classical fans…), most metal bands aren’t as well suited for the orchestral treatment as Skálmöld.  Their style is so perfectly epic, so rooted in classical Norse mythology, so deep in it’s fast and slow parts, that it’s like a Wagner opera.  But, you know, with tattoos and mohawks.

I can’t say enough about how nearly flawless this performance is.  The CD runs roughly 85 minutes and includes 11 tracks, three of which run over 11 minutes apiece.  The DVD gives you the whole concert, all two hours, including the old orchestra conductor throwing the horns out to the crowd.  My only complaint is that we don’t get all two hours on CD or digital download – you’d have to rip it from the DVD.

Björgvin Sigurðsson’s raspy, aggressive, powerful vocals drive Skálmöld, along with the ripping, soaring guitars and super-fast drums.  But they can also pull it back a notch to give you something more folkishly Midieval, which is where keyboardist and oboe player Gunnar Ben comes into play.  Not only does the band make sure to change pace at times to a slower vibe that brings Ben’s instruments to the forefront, his clean tenor voice with it’s perfect cadence can turn a song on a dime and take it to a different place.  This is most noticeable on the opening two minutes of “Miðgarðsormur,” which might be my favorite segment of the entire performance.  He also opens the show with an acapella song, with some backing vocals from a choir, as well – an incredibly powerful and amazing way to open a show.   This is a band that knows what it’s about, and knows how to use the strengths of all of its members.

We’ve also got some impressive guest vocalists participating in this show.  Aðalbjörn Tryggvason of Sólstafir joins the band for a song, while the seemingly impossibly-voiced female singer Edda Tegeder sings on another with her deep, gravely voice that sounds like molten metal itself as it starts to cool and harden (she also contributed vocals to Börn Loka).  Unfortunately the Tryggvason track didn’t make the CD, but Tegeder’s did, and it stops me dead in my tracks every time I hear her voice, which is the perfect pairing with that of Sigurðsson.  How that voice comes out of that woman, I’ll never know.

Skálmöld Og Sinfóniuhljómsveit Íslands is, simply put, an incredible metal performance.  You owe it to yourself to check it out.

Með Vættum

DSCF1355

Með Vættum picks up right where Skálmöld left off with 2012’s Börn Loka – the band once again brings their soaring, shredding Viking metal to the shores of your brain where they will pillage and plunder, especially if you have the volume turned up.  And this is the kind of music that begs you to turn it up to 11.

The album’s eight songs are broken down into four two-song segments – a pair of songs for each of the four points of the compass.  And one of the two songs for each point is named for a season, the other for a beast – the bird, the dragon, the giant, and the bull.  Not speaking Icelandic, I can’t tell you how it all fits together vocally, or exactly what story is being told.  But whatever the story is, it involves pain and violence and steel and and battles and loneliness and rage.  It’s the kind of music that makes you want to throw on some armor and a helmet, pick up your sword, axe, and shield, get on your horse, and invade northern Europe in search of booty and glory.  Some people will undoubtedly get hurt.  Bummer for them.  And if you get killed and die a good death, you’ll get to go to Valhalla, so you’ve got that going for you.  Which is nice.  This is music that makes me want to seriously get after it.

Some of the more most Skálmöld-ish riffs are on “Að Hausti” and “Að Vetri,” a pair of sort of Celtic metal sounding tracks with powerful, structured, and relentless attacks.  They also get doomy at times, most notably in the middle sections of “Með Jötnum” and “Með Drekum.”  It’s interesting that the season songs seem like more in your face metal attacks while the animal/creature songs have interesting interludes in the middle of them.  Coincidence?  You be the judge.

 

And you really should be the judge, because there’s no reason to not add both of these albums to your metal library.  Skálmöld is one of the best metal bands out there today, IMO, so if you’re like me and you like that more “classic” style of metal, check ’em out.  Just try to resist the urge to invade anything except maybe the fridge for another beer while you’re rocking out.

International Party Mix

It’s that time of year again.  Time for the 16th Annual Post-Holiday Holiday part at the Life in the Vinyl Lane house.  We put on this shindig every January and invite our friends over to eat and drink their fill.  And, as we’ve done for the last 10 or so years, we also made an official party CD as a give away for those who stop by.  This year we’re going with a sort of travel theme to the festivities, so the 16 artists on the CD are all from different countries.  Here’s what we put together:

1.  “Pale Green Ghost” – John Grant (USA)
2.  “Storm” – Django Django (Scotland)
3.  “Iso Pasi” – Lama (Finland)
4.  “Amidinine” – Bombino (Niger)
5.  “Don’t Mess” – Juvelen (Sweden)
6.  “Feel Like You Should” – Shiny Darkly (Denmark)
7.  “Hand of Law” – Radio Birdman (Australia)
8.  “Egu Szot Se Szoij” – Sarolta Zalatnay (Hungary)
9.  “Gleipnir” – Skálmöld (Iceland)
10.  “Dynamite” – Jamiroquai (England)
11.  “Manhattan Skyline” – A-ha (Norway)
12.  “Wenu Wenu” – Omar Souleyman (Syria)
13.  “Top of the World” – Shonen Knife (Japan)
14.  “Mission a Paris” – Gruppo Sportivo (Netherlands)
15.  “O mundo é já aqui” – OVO (Portugal)
16.  “Someone Says” – Casino Royale (Italy)

We think it’s a pretty cool mix, so we’re excited to hear what our guests think.

But for now, I have to get back to some serious party prep.

P1050705

Þursaflokkurinn – “Þursabit”

You don’t generally find old school Icelandic albums for sale on eBay by sellers located in the US (well, maybe you do… I rarely seem to), so when I do run across something I try to take advantage of the opportunity.  Even if it’s a record by a band that I was very ho-hum about when I reviewed them previously, which was due in large part to the fact that I’m not a prog rock fan (I don’t own any Rush or Supertramp records, nor have I ever).  So that is why I pulled the trigger on a copy of 1979s Þursabit from Þursaflokkurinn for $25… probably about half of what it would cost to get it in Iceland.  How it made it to New York, where the seller was located, I’ll never know.

Now, to be fair, this is a highly regarded album in Iceland, or at least it is according to the 2009 book on the Top 100 Icelandic albums I bought when I was at Airwaves last year, which lists Þursabit in the #28 slot (9,500 copies produced, BTW…), sandwiched between KK Band (who I’ve never heard of…) and Megas (who is brilliant).  Not bad.  Too bad the damn book is written in Icelandic, otherwise perhaps I could enlighten you with some nuggets about the band… but Rosetta Stone still doesn’t offer software to learn Icelandic, so I guess I’m screwed for now.  We’ve made six trips to Iceland, and so far all I’ve come away with is “takk”, Icelandic for “thanks”.  My complete ineptitude when it comes to foreign languages is staggering, though seemingly everyone in Iceland is fluent in English, so it’s easy to get lazy and not learn anything.  Takk, my Icelandic friends, for speaking English so well.

Anyway… after listening to the first side of Þursabit I was pleasantly surprised.  Yes, it is absolutely prog rock, and no I’m not suddenly filled with the urge to run out and try to track down a used copy of Thick as a Brick (I believe you get a copy of Thick as a Brick any time you sign a lease to open a record store, because every used store has it).  But I have to say I like this better than their 1980 release Á Hljómleikum.  It’s pretty jazzy, and maybe that helps.  But I was also caught off guard by the songs “Brúðkaupssálmur” and “Brúðkaupsvisur” (which are really more like one continuous song, especially given that the first track is only 0:35 long).  These songs could be the prog rock genesis, the primordial musical soup if you will, of some of the songs by my favorite in-your-face Icelandic metal band, Skálmöld.  Sometimes when I make tenuous connections like this people are shocked at my aptitude for connecting two seemingly different things in a way that makes sense.  More often than not though they look at me like I just said I was thinking about investing my life savings in a traveling flea circus (“It’ll be huge, which is ironic because fleas are so small!”) or that the cover of this album is artistically brilliant (it’s creepy as hell).  So you’ll have to decide for yourself about the validity of my Skálmöld connection.

Þursabit isn’t half bad (and it’s not half terrible either).  It does have a bit of chanting, which I actually like, so that admittedly scored some points in its favor.  I doubt it will make it off the shelf very often, but I’m still glad I got it, as it’s an important part of the Icelandic scene, when prog rock was popular and punk just starting to make it’s initial, though somewhat delayed, arrival to the island.  So to you, Sigurður Ingvarsson, who apparently bought this album back in 1979 and promptly wrote your name on both the cover and the record label, I say takk!

The Best of 2012

I figured I’d wrap up 2012 with a series of Top 5 lists to share the different ways I enjoyed music over the course of the last year, probably in part because I just finished re-reading Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity which, like the movie, has lots of Top 5 lists created by Rob, Dick, and Barry.  All of this is, of course, purely subjective… I don’t pretend to have been exposed to a broad array of music, so I’m sure there’s some amazing stuff out there that not only does not appear on my lists, but that I’ve never even heard of.  But such is life.  So with that…. on to the lists!

Top 5 New Releases in 2012

1.  Fearless – Legend
2.  Live at Gamla Bíó – Agent Fresco
3.  Division of Culture & Tourism – Ghostigital
4.  K2R – Halleluwah
5.  Börn Loka – Skálmöld

I feel like this list might seem a bit pretentious, since all these bands are from Iceland… and I am not.  However, with Iceland Airwaves being the biggest week each year on my calendar, and considering how many bands I saw there this year (36), it kind of makes sense.  Ironically the only one of these I have on vinyl is K2R, though I do have the limited edition vinyl release of Ghostigital on order.  And unintentionally this is a pretty good mix of genres – goth/electronic (Legend), alt (Agent Fresco), industrial (Ghostigital), hip hop (Halleluwah), and hard core metal (Skálmöld).

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands

1.  Legend (Iceland)
2.  Lama (Finland)
3.  Ghostland Observatory (Texas)
4.  Skálmöld (Iceland)
5.  Shabazz Palaces (Seattle)

Most of these bands, other than maybe Legend, are not new.  But they were new to me in 2012 – I’d never heard of them before.  I also had the opportunity to see all of them except Lama live over the course of the year, which certainly increased my interest and appreciation in them.  Check them out.  You won’t be disappointed.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1.  Miranda – Tappi Tikarrass
2.  Rokk Í Reykjavík
3.  The Fourth Reich
– Þeyr
4.  Seattle Syndrome, Vols. 1-2
5.  Mistakes 7″ – Gruppo Sportivo

The top two on this list came from an unexpected source – the flea market in downtown Reykjavik.  I figured I was already done with all my vinyl buying when we walked in, but there was a seller with tons of vinyl including these hard to find gems.  They weren’t cheap, but both were on my short list of things I wanted to find while I was in Iceland, so I was happy to pay the price.  The Fourth Reich was a surprise find at Trash Palace in Stockholm.  The Seattle Syndrome records came to me a day apart, and from different sources, and are a great snapshot of the early 1980s Seattle music scene.  The Gruppo Sportivo 7″ I ran across in someone’s garage, and it sort of opened my mind to taking a chance on stuff that I wasn’t familiar with.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.  Agent Fresco (acoustic) – Nordic House, Reykjavik
2.  Legend – Gamli Gaukurinn, Reykjavik
3.  Ghostigital – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4.  Devil Makes Three – Showbox Market, Seattle
5.  Ghostland Observatory – Showbox SODO, Seattle

I could have easily gone strictly with shows we saw at Airwaves, but the two Seattle entries were both strong and featured bands I really like a lot.  The Agent Fresco show was the best, hands down, as the intimacy of the tiny Nordic House venue and the emotional power of the show was almost overwhelming.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
3.  Trash Palace, Stockholm
4.  Jive Time, Seattle
5.  Amoeba Records, Los Angeles

I found great stuff in all these places in 2012, and hope to shop at four of them again in 2013 (unfortunately I have no plans to go back to Sweden…).  They all have great selections and are well organized, and I could spend hours flipping through their inventories.

Top 5 Websites

1.  Dust & Grooves – Record collector profiles and photos
2.  Vinyl Noize – Blurbs on rare punk and metal vinyl for sale on eBay
3.  Discogs – THE place to research artists and records
4.  I Love Icelandic Music Blog – No longer getting new posts, but still great
5.  Wikipedia – It has it’s limitations, but a good place to get basic info on bands

Top 5 Music Books

1.  Stuð vors lands by Dr. Gunni
2.  Rip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds
3.  Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm
4.  Iggy Pop – Open Up and Bleed by Paul Trynka
5.  How Music Works by David Byrne

All in all it was a great year, musically speaking (and in lots of other ways as well, to be sure).  My vinyl library grew considerably (see photo) – I’m not sure how many new discs I added, but in all honesty it has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 or so.  I suspect that will slow down a bit in 2013… but then again, we’re hoping to go to Iceland twice next year (fingers crossed), and we’re planning to hit up Tokyo as well… so time will tell.

I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!