Friday, March 18, 2011

Solefald: Norrøn Livskunst (2010)

Folk Metal Week: Part 5


My first introduction to the avant-garde Viking metal band Solefald was in their double-concept albums going by the name An Icelandic Odyssey. There were a few songs on those albums that completely blew me away, but mostly they were just headscratchers. (Do I really need to hear somebody literally just reading a poem in a tongue I don't know?) But their seventh full-length, Norrøn Livskunst, came highly recommended by anyone who'd heard it, i.e., those who didn't write the band off after their last two albums.

Norron LivskunstAfter hearing it, I understand exactly why it was recommended. The album has everything I ever want in music: catchy riffs and vocal hooks, great atmosphere, and well-executed experimentation. Usually, you have to pick one of the three, but not so here, and it's all packaged together into a cohesive whole deserving of being called a true album.

The music is at its base Viking metal, very close to the black metal end of the spectrum. The vocals are both clean and rasped, with mostly Norwegian lyrics, and synths as well as other instruments add drama. A track-by-track analysis seems appropriate here, given that the whole thing tells a story (musically at least, if not lyrically). Opener "Song Til Stormen" is slow, dramatic, and emotional, with the ICS Vortex-like clean vocals providing extremely memorable melody. The song sets the stage before the title track cuts in with fast black metal, mixing rasps and clean vocals and allowing synths to substitute for bass in part. Following that is "Tittentattenteksti", which includes female guest vocals in a variety of styles, from beautiful clean singing, to a snarky voice that makes me think J-punk (if there is such a thing), to some almost Jonathan Davis-like scatting. Then "Blackabilly / Stridsljod" is exactly what the title implies, suggesting an entirely new genre that I want to hear. The 9+ minute centerpiece "Eukalyptustreet" brings things down a notch, relying on understated drums and synths, whispers and clean vocals for over 5 minutes before the guitars even come in, and even then it's an understated beauty of a song which allows saxophone and piano to take the forefront. "Raudedauden" and "Vitets Vidd I Verdi" are in large part Immortal-esque but with unmistakable Solefald layered on top (and check out the vocal hooks in the latter). "Hugferdi" has a wah-wah solo perfectly out of left field (even in this album). Finally, "Waves over Valhalla" serves as the dramatic climax to the story before the denoument of "Til Heimen Yver Havet".

It's all built on a solid viking metal core with a cohesive style, but each and every song has something unusual it brings to the table. And they all have a memorable riff or melody, or a number of both, to draw you in and keep you coming back.

The Verdict: If I had heard this album last year, it would have made my top albums of the year. It is astoundingly good, and has everything I look for in music. A career-crowning achievement deserving of a 5 out of 5 star rating.

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