Månegarm: Vikings Bringing It Old School

As an Irishman, my feelings on the vikings are mixed. On the one hand, these cow-hat motherfuckers showed up out of nowhere to start  stealing all our shiny shit for their pagan rituals. And I need that shit back for my own pagan rituals. No regard for the property of us poor futurefolk, I’m telling you. And  yet, even though I have to adorn my shrine to the blood-god with wreaths of simple heather, I feel like I owe them a grudging respect. After all, they traveled from Scandinavia in longboats, through the Atlantic Ocean (which is freezing) just to grab some swag. Then they got off the boats and  casually took the island over.with nothing but axes and those damn hats. They may have ripped our coastline a new  one, but they earned it. I’m surprised the boats were able to float carrying all those pairs of pendulous steel balls. Plus, some of the music played in their honor nowadays is awesome. For example we have today’s band, Månegarm, whose recently reissued 2003 black Viking metal ripper Dödsfärd is the perfect soundtrack to celebrate a successful day of raiding and plundering or to rile you up for the  charge into the next battle.

One of the most impressive aspects of Dödsfärd is that musically, it never forgets where it came from. The album doesn’t compromise on the metal, but neither does it compromise on giving you that Viking feeling. It opens with a gentle fiddle melody and the sound of the lapping sea, setting up the underlying tone. The fiddle work is heavy throughout, which helps establish the feeling of tradition and history, but it comes through elsewhere in the music too. The overlying guitar melodies spend much of their time following folksy sounding lines, which helps merge the two styles of music together. Similarly, the vocals, while often taking the form of a black metal snarl, find points in the music to sneak in a balladic chant, adding a sense of ritual and mysticism to proceedings. This fusion with European folk music gives off a rooted quality, making it feel like the most natural thing in the world that Black metal and Viking fiddles work together.

Of course, if you’re going to fuse two genres together, it’s not enough to keep the fans of one happy. Happily, Dödsfärd keeps the metal fans on their feet too, answering that ages old question, “What would happen if a viking picked up an electric guitar and knew how to use it?” Apparently, the answer is that he rocks. Hard. The riffs are meaty affairs, with sledgehammer power and a tone designed to knock chips out of your teeth. From the opening chords of I Evig Tid, there is a high bar of quality set that stretches throughout the whole album. The folk elements never get in the way and there are times where the violins riff almost as hard as the guitars, quite an achievement considering the power of the black metal assault.

Dödsfärd is a Viking metal classic. It helps remind  us that the riffs and melodies that captivate metal fans today often aren’t a thousand miles away from the folk music our ancestors listened to huddled around a fire. And even if it were a thousand miles away, the Vikings would just hop in a longboat and go get it back. I Evig Tid is embedded below and you can pick up  the full album on Månegarm’s iTunes.

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