Friday, June 22, 2012

Vintersorg: Orkan (2012)

Deja Viking

Vintersorg is a progressive Viking metal band from Sweden who have released [eight] albums since their debut in 1998. They are the namesake of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund, who has also done impressive work with Borknagar. [Orkan is my second experience with the band, after last year’s Jordpuls impressed me.]

The musical approach is a strange beast. Yes, it sounds like Viking metal: strong influence from black metal and folk music, with anthemic songs. But what makes it odd is that the focus is clearly on the vocals. Metal tends to focus on guitars and, to a lesser extent, drums, but only a few (Slough Feg, Danzig) put this much emphasis on the singer. And he definitely has the voice and singing chops to pull it off. He has a capable black metal rasp, but the clean vocals are the real star. They're emotional, dramatic, beautiful, and distinctive. The closest to his style is probably ICS Vortex, the former Borknagar vocalist and Dimmu Borgir clean singer. The vocals are even better layered, either with two clean vocals to create harmony or with a clean and rasp to create contrast.

The focus on vocals is especially strange considering how much is really going on in the music. Besides the usual suspects, there are keyboards, Hammond organ, and digital effects, and every instrument seems to be doing something different all the time. The effect is not chaos, but high drama, a suitable backdrop for the vocals. All of it is cleanly produced, and considering everything that's happening that is a wise choice.

[Apparently the drums are programmed, but they sound more natural than many real drummers do, so I’m not complaining.]

The songs are extremely well-written, full of hooks and varying tempos and rhythms, and tend to alternate between harder and softer sections. ["Polarnatten"] may be the highlight, but other standouts include ["Myren"] and ["Norrskenssyner"]. Seeing as this is basically a solo project, there are bound to be a couple duds, and [the title track, with its Iron Maiden "Dance of Death" piano melody] fits the bill, while closer ["Urvädersfången"] probably won't get much play unless you're listening to the whole album.

I am completely sold on Vintersorg's approach. This is catchy stuff, and it's got drama and progressiveness in spades. [It’s just that it’s not much different from their last album. In fact, this is the same review I wrote last time, but everything I’ve changed is in brackets. The score is, accordingly, half a star lower; the record is just as good, but I already heard it a year ago.]

The Verdict: [3.5] out of 5 stars

Preorder/Buy Orkan (the album is released July 10)

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