The fusion of black metal and folk metal has always struck me as a little odd since the two styles of music seem at odds with each other with regards to attitude. Black metal was born from the misanthropic fringes of society while folk music tends to celebrate cultural unity. Clearly there’s something to it, though, because there are many bands that have dabbled in this fusion of disparate styles — which, in certain incarnations is known as Viking Metal — including Bathory, Windir, Finntroll, Moonsorrow, and Sweden’s Månegarm, who return this year with their seventh studio album. That album, bearing the imposing title “Legions of the North”, is as enthusiastic a representative of the aforementioned style as there ever was.
From the vicious speed-picking to the rowdy sing-along choruses, this music seems written to score both an epic battle and the ensuing victory celebration Opening instrumental “Arise” is an ominous march that gives way to the title track’s clash of blast-beats and dissonant riffing. “To war!”, shrieks vocalist Erik Grawsiö, “Unite the tribes of the north!” You couldn’t ask for a more perfect setup for an album about glory and victory. The band then incorporates some groups vocals, including some wordless “woah-oh”s during the bridge. This ends up being the formula that they employ on almost every song, with the violent riffing bringing to mind combat and the gang vocals strengthening the lyrical message of unity.
In theory this seems like a home-run, but something about the execution leaves me less than satisfied. Maybe it’s the glossy production that makes the outsider black metal riffing too safe and a little dishonest, maybe I lack the cultural context necessary to connect with folk metal from a faraway country (at least in this instance), or maybe it all just feels too familiar. My earlier use of the word “formula” was intentional: from the opening march to the closing acoustic balladry, I can’t help but feel like I’ve heard it all before. There’s nothing about this album that surprises or challenges me in any way.
This is not to say that it’s bad, and indeed there are many parts that I very much enjoy, but ultimately it just doesn’t give me anything that the aforementioned bands do not. That said, Månegarm is competent and clearly loves what they do, so if you’re a fan of this kind of music you may very well enjoy this a great deal.
Album: Legions of the North
Released: June 26th, 2013
Label: Napalm Records