The idea of reviewing Skálmöld’s new album, ‘Börn Loka’ inspires considerable trepidation. Their previous effort, 2011’s ‘Baldur’ was an unlooked-for comic masterpiece in which the protagonist, permanently inebriated Viking underdog Baldur, was last seen dying of plague while ironically brandishing a winning lottery ticket. A full review of Baldur’s exploits can be read here: http://www.metalteamuk.net/june11reviews/cdreviews-skalmold.htm
After such an eccentric debut one could only wish for more of the same. Disappointingly, ‘Börn Loka’ doesn’t have Baldur on it, but some traditions remain. No less than three out of six members wear spectacles on the band website (although only bass player and apparent escaped librarian Snæbjörn Ragnarsson sports them for the naively photo shopped ‘in sea with flaming brands’ promo shot). It is heartening to see that they have kept faith with minute rotund drummeralike Gunnar Ben on keyboards.
‘Börn Loka’ does show some progress. In terms of sound quality, it is now possible to tell what is going on. The main vocals (presumably by Björgvin Sigurðsson) are better recorded, but remain resolutely dreadful. However the backing singers can sing, and combined with some studio magic produce the best moments on the album. As with ‘Baldur’ some of the music is very good, while some is downright peculiar. All in all ‘Börn Loka’ feels like a step up.
Throughout the ‘Baldur’ album one word was discernible ‘ODIN!’ which came right at the end. For ‘Börn Loka’ Skálmöld repeat the trick, but PUT IT AT THE BEGINNING. Opening track ‘Odinn’ goes ‘ODIN! ODIN! ODIN! ODIN!’. All of the vocals are purportedly Old Norse, but it could be about Odin.
This is followed by a crunchy and compelling ode to Odin’s horse, ‘Sleipnir’, which has a solid, if atonal guitar riff and some good Viking chants before going wrong with a dreadful screamed mid-section. The cunningly rhymed ‘Gleipnir’ is rather better, with a strong riff and stellar solo. The dreadful main vocal is almost saved by Viking chanting on the choruses – but alas – they are too low in the mix this time.
‘Fenrisulfur’ starts with a foot-tapping verse, which is then undermined by an unbelievably bad screamed backing vocal, before meandering into an off-key section.
This is immediately followed by one of two standout tracks on the album, ‘Himinhirjodur’, which consists of atmospheric keyboards, introducing some kind of monster which makes quite a racket. Somebody draws a sword and it goes kind of SPLAT! SPLAT! SPLAT! None more metal. Also laugh out loud funny.
The other standout track ‘Midgardsormur’ follows immediately afterwards. One of the backing vocalists steps up to the plate and proceeds to really sing like a better Heri Joensen. The horrible ‘ugh blugh’ noise is mostly absent, leaving a good singer with some decent musicians behind him. Alright it meanders into some very odd progressions, but is easily the best track on the album. Why not do it like this all of the time?
‘Narfi’ displays some great work by the backing singers, which can’t save it from the terrible main vocalist. ‘Hel’ continues this theme, starting with some good drums and heaviness and excellent heroic riffery. Then the vocalist goes kind of ‘WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH! Did nidstit kinder! CLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGE! Der strowort clargle barge’. Then there is a bit with violins and a lot of drunken ranting, which goes on for an incredibly long time before stopping for no apparent reason.
‘Vali’ initially stomps like a Jotun trampling a prostrate Baldur, creating an effect like an up-tempo Týr, but the effort is somewhat undermined by a dire main vocal and another pitiful screamed backing vocal. Despite a cracking solo and well deployed Viking chants, all is lost.
The final track ‘Loki’, which seems to have been a very long time coming, produces an excellent head-banging verse, overlayed with some clever keyboard, but the chorus goes ‘GRAAAAAAAAAH! LOKI!’. Thanks Bjorgvin. Then there is some clarinet and it goes ‘LOKI! LOKI! LOKI!’ like the Odin chant at the beginning.
All in all ‘Börn Loka’ is a rather better album than ‘Baldur’ in terms of sound quality, and all round stomp. Skálmöld have clearly realised the potential of their backing vocalists and brought them to the fore to good effect.
However nothing on earth can save them from the destructive power of their truly dismal lead vocalist, who has wrought the same havoc on this album that he did on ‘Baldur’. As ‘Midgardsormur’ proves that Skálmöld have a talented singer in their midst, they have the key to success or failure in their own hands – after all Björgvin Sigurðsson could always be induced to concentrate on his guitar playing.
Aside from that ‘Börn Loka’ will be chiefly memorable for producing possibly the funniest Metal track of all time. Turn on ‘Himinhirjodur’. Draw your sword. Prepare to SPLAT! SPLAT! SPLAT!
Shoot the vocalist.
(4/10 Graham Cushway)