Annoyingly, I didn’t spot this album in my inbox until 2-3 days ago, just before the Glasgow gig on their current tour with Eluveitie. Which is a shame as, in common with their first two albums, it’s bloody good. I mean, really bloody good.
There is a story to the album, further details of which will be in an interview which should be up in a day or two, but essentially it’s a cyclical tale. A young female hero is born and travels around Iceland. In each quadrant (north, east, south, west), she battles a mythical beast with the aid of a “spirit” (the title of the album translates as “Among Vaettir”, the Vaettir being a type of spirit known as a wight). As she travels around the island, the seasons pass from Spring to Winter, and this passage of time is indicated by the four songs “Að vori”, “Að sumri”, “Að hausti” and “Að vetri”. The intervening tracks detail the creatures she battles – bird, dragons, Jötnar (ice giants) and bulls.
There’s no messing about with the opening of “Að vori”. No catchy riff, no folkish sounds just heavy blasting noise – given the subject matter it could be the end of the abrasive Winter winds leading into spring.
Things settle down into more familiar form as the album proceeds, though, with songs every bit as good as those on earlier albums. Multiple vocals, almost choral, are used as well as the signature three guitars and Gunnar’s keyboard skills. How Jon keeps up with the drumming through the longer tracks is beyond me.
Með vættum isn’t just an album of songs, it’s a soundtrack to an epic tale – almost a musical. As such, it starts well without wasting time to coax you in. It then progresses on at pace, almost with scenes and acts, building as it goes. The second last track, “Að vetri” probably has the most barbed hooks in terms of catchy riffs, but the whole tale comes to a staggering, wonderful conclusion throughout “Með griðungum”.
It’s like the last act of a musical where the whole ensemble cast gradually walks on stage, adding to the sound. Around the 7:45 mark, the hairs on my neck were standing up and I have never in my life wished so much that I could understand Icelandic.
The only thing which could make this album better is an English translation – not an English version of the songs – that would spoil it, but some documentation of the tale, or translation of the lyrics in written form. Whether this is included in the physical packaging I don’t know, but I’d heartily suggest it to Napalm Records for one of their well-crafted special editions. As it happens, the lyric video below for “Að hausti” has subtitles/captions with an English translation.
I can’t recommend this over Skálmöld’s previous two albums (three if you include the live one with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra) simply as all three are so good. I couldn’t tell you that one’s better than the others as somehow the band have maintained an impressive level of quality across all the recordings.
If you like Skálmöld already, then this will not disappoint. If you’ve not heard them before then it’s as good a jumping-on point as any.