I have to confess that the arrival of this new Skálmöld album caught me unawares and was quite the pleasant surprise. I had been thinking recently that maybe it was about time for something new from Iceland’s great export and then Vögguvísur Yggdrasils dropped through the electronic letterbox.
Obviously, it went on the mp3 player right away. I loved the previous album (2014’s Með vættum) so this follow-up had a lot to live up to. Essentially, this was like Machine Head trying to follow up Locust or Metallica wondering how they could appease the crowds after …And Justice For All. Fortunately Skálmöld have managed the former, not the latter, with a release that builds on previous works rather than going “what they hell, they’ll buy any old shit we foist on them now”.
What’s obvious from the opening track, “Múspell” is that this isn’t a straight follow-on. The band have gone for a different sound with this album. It’s more military, anthemic and atmospheric overall. Með vættum was epic in both sound and scale which suited its purpose and story. Vögguvísur Yggdrasils is more of a story in parts so deserves a different approach.
While there are still traces of it throughout, the traditional Icelandic sound which flowed through previous works isn’t as prominent. Instead, the scales have tipped a little to include some more traditional metal (NWOBHM-ish) sounds amongst them. Some may say this is a bad thing, but personally I want bands to develop and try new sounds. There’s still plenty of stuff in here which makes this a uniquely Skálmöld album.
Thematically, the album is about the Nine Worlds of Norse lore, all of which were joined together by Yggdrasil – the “world tree”. The album title (thank you Google Translate) can be read as Lullabies of Yggdrasil – though these are very metal lullabies! I’ll let you Google the nine worlds, but they each tie in with a single song and – once more – I wish this album came with a translated lyrics sheet.
What’s important, and impressive, is that the musical styles suit the worlds. Niflheim is the world of mists and ice, and as such the song “Niflheimur” has quite an airy feel particularly in regards to the backing vocals. Helheim is home of the dishonourable dead so we get a fast, frenetic, punishing thrash-esque number with plenty of death-metal screams behind the main throaty vocals. “Miðgarður” is written for our plane, the land of men. As such it’s probably the closest to a folk sound out of the nine.
And so it goes.
Once more, Skálmöld haven’t produced an album so much as a musical. Complex yet catchy guitar rhythms are carried on heavy beats with full use made of backing vocals and keys for atmosphere. It’s obvious that a lot of thought has gone into honouring the mythology behind the lyrics and titles and as such they’ve created yet another incredible work- a modern retelling of an ages-old history.
Do I like it as much as Með vættum? Not yet, though give it time to bed in and I have no doubt it’ll be up there. It took me a while to really appreciate Bloodstone & Diamonds and now I like it almost as much as Unto The Locust. Skálmöld set themselves a difficult target to beat with that last album, and they’ve done an incredible job with Vögguvísur Yggdrasils.
Vögguvísur Yggdrasils is out on September 30th and can be pre-ordered via the links below: