Monday, November 23, 2009

Thyrfing - Valdr Galga (1999)

I have long considered Thyrfing a band which hovered on the very edge of parody; their use of the keyboard as a fake orchestra is so central to their style that one can often not help but laugh as the reach exceeds the grasp. However, over the many years of perusing countless thousands of metal albums, I have developed a sense of deeper awareness, or 'cheese goggles' as I prefer to call it. The theory is that you put them on, and can penetrate the silly exterior of a work of art to find any intrisic value lying beyond. In the case of Sweden's Thyrfing, they do possess enough value to let down your guard and simply enjoy (as do their bastard stepchildren, Turisas, who arrive later with an extremely similar style).

Valdr Galga is the second full-length effort of the band, capitalizing on the buzz that was spread through their self-titled debut album a year prior. The album plays out like a bitter 13 year old's escapist visions of a mead lodge against the sounds of brutal conquest and warfare. This is both the strength and weakness of the material. The band is not lyrically fucking around, but the way the synthesizers interact with very simple guitars (which generally offer very little on their own) creates a rousing, playful environment which recalls a lot of the sillier symphonic black metal. But there is just enough skeleton holding the blood and muscle together that I have a good time listening.

A few chugs and screams of battle, and the flighty keyboards of Peter Löf and "Storms of Asgard" immediately take command, issuing their orders to the rhythm section and the guitars that now serve only to provide a lower range mirror to the driving atmosphere. The synth tones used are extremely reminiscent of Bal-Sagoth, minus the complexity of Johnny Maudling's typical performance. Thomas Väänänen sends his black barks flying through the mix, and most are passionate enough to stick, as he can shift from the deeper tones of the voice to the biting edge for a subtle variety. "From Wilderness Came Death" has a brief acoustic intro that transitions nicely into a heavier guitar rhythm...and lo and behold, the keyboards let the guitars have a little room to breathe here, at least up front. "Askans Rike" flows through a sequence of familiar descending and ascending chords, all smeared in swollen keyboard butter, though the guitar melodies peak through, and there is a silly if endearing high-pitched flute synth that parades about the growling glory. The title track is one of the better pieces on the album, I really enjoyed the keyboard composition and the attempts by guitar to duel along with it, as well as the mug slamming finale.

I know that I hung in this tree
All of nights nine
Wounded by the spear, given to myself
Enlightened I'll become

But the latter half of the album truly ups the ante, beginning with the excellent "Firever", with its charging and uplifting orchestration, and surge of raw chords and great barking vocals. "A Moment in Valhalla" is packed...basically an orgy of vikings and valkyries set to pompous metal music. I laughed my ass off several times in this track, but I would still drink to it. "Mimer's Well" is another of my faves, highly atmospheric, giving all its instrumentation plenty of space in which to breathe, and it also breaks out a nice charging rhythm. "A Great Man's Return", the final track, also offers some festive Viking gang shouting and almost caustic punkish guitar rhythms.

Valdr Galga has a decent mix to it, and I don't think the keyboard dominance can be pinned on anything more than the band's decision to give the guitars the backseat. They're audible, but really serving as the rhythm to Löf's lead. All of the other elements...samples, vocals, and even acoustics sound pretty swell. I would like to hear more songs where the guitars provide a more central role, and this would in fact happen on some of their later recordings. Thyrfing is Viking metal for those who don't approach the genre too seriously. It's festive and fun, while lyrically serving the subject matter better than some other bands in the field. "Firever" was my favorite track, 3 minutes of glory that I'd probably paste into any compilation of symphonic metal, but the whole album is consistent enough for some drunken appreciation.

Askans Rike, Firever, Mimer's Well

Verdict: Win [7/10]
(tales spawned by enemy blood)

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