Viking Metal bands have been ten-a-penny for some time, to the extent that to discover a NEW band of marauders is becoming tiring. One feels for Athelstan or Alfred the Great who had them popping up ad nauseam. God save us from the wrath of the Norsemen? Hopefully – but too few are wolf-clad reavers, and too many are wey-faced under-muscled weeds –both musically and in person. What new tricks can still be pulled with this slightly tired, but still just about animated pantomime horse?
Incursed are as Viking as it gets – almost. ‘Fimbulwinter’, the band’s debut album, explores the Fimbul Winter, a series of years of winter which will serve as a prelude to the eagerly anticipated Ragnarok. The album sleeve consists of pastiches of the icy northern wastes, and the song titles are along the lines of ‘Finnish Polkka’ and ‘Northern Winds’. The lyrics are suspiciously well-researched, with some taken from actual Viking sagas. What’s going on? Well, as with all these bands Incursed have a guilty secret. They are Spanish.
This instant blow to their credibility can however be forgiven, because despite (or perhaps because of) this handicap Incursed are actually pretty good. The album gives the impression of a band trying very, very hard indeed to emulate Korpiklaani and Ensiferum, but utterly failing to avoid imbuing the whole endeavour with their humour and a sense of fun.
One advantage ‘Fimbulwinter’ has over its many, many rivals is a lot of variety in terms of music, and there is also some damn good song-writing, presumably from main man Narot Santos. The sound has also been rendered suitably epic by recourse to an excellent studio. The only oddity is that although the tracks are wrapped mummy-like in layer upon layer of keyboard from Jon Koldo – there are even several keyboard solos – Asier Fernandez’s few guitar solos are generally low in the mix.
‘Fimbulwinter’ starts somewhat groan-inducingly with pompous keyboards on ‘Endless, Restless, Relentless’ which suggest Nightwish or Epica before building into something complex and pleasing that serves well as a build-up. However it is immediately obvious from the well-executed jug-pumping opening bars of ‘Svolder’s Battle’ that ‘Fimbulwinter’ is out of the ordinary. Although Narot Sandos’s Jonne Järvelä-alike growling vocal produces a second frustrated reviewer-groan on first encounter, it suits the music well and the music and lyrics are compelling enough to carry it. The clean voice he uses for the choruses throughout shows considerable promise.
‘Ginnungagap’ is another well-wrought metal stomper, combining a clever guitar lick with compelling vocals and well worked keyboard. The fast and epic ‘Jormangandur’ features some amazing lyrics, but also some of Narot Santos’s weakest grunted vocals on the album, before being saved by stellar clean-vocal chorus work. The track features an astonishing keyboard solo, but is curiously bereft of lead guitar.
‘Feisty Blood’ is an instrumental in which Incursed explore what Iron Maiden would sound like if they replaced those pesky guitars with accordions. The result is curiously impressive – and very fast. This is followed by ‘Homeland’, a decent instrumental-ish number with some honest clear vocal work from Santos, epic choruses and a reasonable stab at a guitar solo from Asier Fernandez.
Nordwardtaler, a curious Spanish Viking take on a western, starts brightly with an impressive guitar / keyboard arrangement and kicks along aggressively thereafter. After a soaring mid-section it goes increasingly mental, flailing about in an entertaining mess of horse effects and canned gunfire. ‘Northern Winds’ similarly thrashes along after an atmospheric start, but also includes some of the best sung choruses on the album.
‘Fimbulwinter’ is completed by ‘Eric the Deaf’, Incursed’s own tale about of a deaf, drunken Viking. It includes some good folk riffing, but nothing can save it from terrible vocals and Narot Santos’ bizarre take on a Finnish accent. The mid-section is also ripped from ‘The Animals Went In Two By Two’ – but they aren’t the first are they – Alestorm?
To be fair it IS supposed to be funny, and kind of is – particularly when the band for reasons best known to themselves use a Nintendo game soundtrack for a hidden track afterward. While information on them is scanty in the extreme, the band look young in their promo photos – so silliness of this kind is more than forgiveable.
All in all ‘Fimbulwinter’ is extraordinarily accomplished for a debut album, and in general highly entertaining, the only serious gripe being the low guitar solo count.
Looks like that old pantomime horse can still cut a few capers after all. All it takes is some enthusiasm, a sense of fun, the replacement of guitars with accordions and a bunch of dedicated genuine Norse warriors from the ice-bound snowy wastes of Bilbao.
(8/10 Graham Cushway)