Monday, June 25, 2012

Ereb Altor: Gastrike (2012)


Viking lore is very much concerned with the end of the world. Doom, in other words. So it only makes sense that a band would come around to combine both Viking metal and doom metal, or at least that's how Ereb Altor is billed.

The label "epic Viking doom metal" is not far off the mark for these Swedes. It does make them seem a bit more unique than they really are. An unusual genre label is just good marketing, and this is coming from the same label who brought you Ahab's "Nautik doom metal." In truth, Ereb Altor's Gastrike sounds mostly like Watain, being heavier-than-average black metal, and with a very similar sound in terms of tone, riff-writing, and vocals. But there are key differences, mainly drawn from Bathory's Viking period.

True Viking metal should be swathed in keyboards, but beyond the first song they don't play a big part here. The Viking tag is earned from generously-applied epic clean vocals. They tend to stay to the back of the mix, and remain a-lyrical, providing dramatic embellishment. In "I Djupet Så Svart" they do take center stage, telling us something in Swedish (possibly about being in deep darkness).

The record is mostly mid-paced, sometimes faster, and the riffs are almost entirely black metal in character. They do stray outside of purity at times, such as the blackened death metal style riff in the middle of closer "Seven." The solos are raw, and sometimes very heavy metal, so that's a nice touch.

The real question isn't what genre label is appropriate, though. The real question is whether it's any good. And it is. The synths of Viking metal can be a big turnoff for a lot of people, since they can sound extremely cheesy. By mostly abandoning the keyboards and sticking to epic clean vocals, they've maintained all the drama of Viking metal while losing most of the cheese. The songwriting, while not entirely original ("Boatmans Call" and parts of "Seven" sound extremely familiar), is memorable and interesting. And the record is produced in that sweet spot where it's clean and powerful, but not over-polished.

Viking doom metal? Not quite, but Ereb Altor's Gastrike is a very good Viking metal album. It might even appeal to those who normally ignore the genre out of cheese aversion.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Gastrike MP3 link to Amazon (available July 10)

import on Amazon (available July 10)

on Napalm Records (available in Europe June 29)

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