Icelandic outfit Skálmöld blend a hearty, chest-beating mix of Viking metal, gentler folk melodies and lyrics in their native language on their excellent debut Baldur. Big guitars, great Nordic atmospherics and swelling vocal passages define the album. It’s a concept piece, telling the story of Baldur the Viking and his quest for revenge after a demonic beast slaughters his family. Baldur was originally released on the Faroese-based label Tutl in November 2010, but the band’s talents were clearly recognized and in April of 2011 Skálmöld signed to Napalm Records, releasing a repackaged edition of the album.
With the weight and influence of a larger label behind them, Skálmöld have all the potential to rise to the top of the Viking hordes in 2011. There’s no doubt about the talent on display,* Baldur* is a powerful album, and although the lyrics are all in Icelandic, the music itself rises and falls with a rousing tempo to ensure you’re swept up in the journey, even if you’re not exactly following the narrative.
Skálmöld wield a hefty Viking sound that isn’t to dissimilar from their genre cohorts, but it is delivered with plenty of unabashed enthusiasm. Heavy, undulating riffs are combined with delicate flourishes of folk, and the addition of plenty of classic metal—“Kvaðning” in particular has a glorious melodic solo—moves the album briskly through a variety of shifting moods. It’s quite an achievement that the band managed to encapsulate the tale of Baldur with such musical finesse. “Daudi” has a plaintive opening followed by a furious assault, and although I have no idea lyrically what’s happening, the emotive thrust of the song is palpable. “Upprisa” has a similar accent as well, with its variable, distinct parts combining to produce a highly evocative tune.
There’s a wonderful mix of gruff balladry and choral work on the album. “Baldur”, the epic penultimate track, makes use of a mix of vocal styles to up its heroic themes, and “Sorg” has a driven clean vocal line that brings a valiant power-metal undercurrent. The two shortest songs, “Draumur” and the stirring intro “Heima”, also make use of choral and solo Icelandic vocals to create some great atmosphere.
Skálmöld have fashioned an inspiring debut. The production is spacious enough to ensure the historic elements aren’t choked by the metal, and the riffs and drums pound away with a momentous, almost militaristic intonation (which seems appropriate given Baldur’s quest for revenge). Is it wholly original? No, but nor should it be; they’re working in a particularly small genre after all, and you can’t complain about them sounding too Viking when they’re telling a Viking tale. This is a brutal account of Baldur’s vengeance, played out on a grand stage, and like the best Viking metal bands Skálmöld craft a sound that’s highly evocative of their source material.