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Skalmold - "Baldur" (CD)

Skalmold - "Baldur" CD cover image

"Baldur" track listing:

1. Heima
2. Árás
3. Sorg
4. Upprisa
5. För
6. Draumur
7. Kvaðning
8. Hefnd
9. Daudi
10. Valhöll

Reviewed by on January 12, 2012

"Taking a cue from their islet neighbors, Tyr, and the tradition set forth by latter-era Bathory, 'Baldur' receives its magic from minstrel-like choirs."

From the accented letters of the band’s name and song titles to the bearded, battle ax-wielding avenger gracing the cover art, Skálmöld’s debut album is clearly of the folk/viking sort. Even though the entire album’s language, from song titles to lyrics, consists of Norse, the album title, “Baldur,” explains the album’s concept. I can’t decipher their Icelandic language, but the one sheet explains the story revolves around the Icelandic viking Baldur (not the God) taking revenge on a demon-like creature for destroying his land and killing his family. Without a translated storyline, listeners will have to use the majestic music to imagine this grandiose blood feud.

The group presents “Baldur” with a touch of both the old and the new. The album shies away from the happy-go-lucky compositions of power metal. Although enveloped in moods of might and triumph, Skálmöld down plays the festive side of folk metal. They don’t present an ensemble of ethnic instruments. Keyboards, acoustic guitar and oboe - a woodwind cousin of the flute - add variety beyond the typical bass, guitar and drums of metal, but aren’t the band’s main focus. Taking a cue from their islet neighbors, Tyr, and the tradition set forth by latter-era Bathory, “Baldur” receives its magic from minstrel-like choirs.

Album intro “Heima” brings the record in a cappella style. “Heima” is about as true to the oral tradition of the Skop as a band can get. The group even entwines its voice with a choir of children. Soaring melodic vocals and rich guitar harmonies on “Sorg” seem to carry through the ice-chiseled passage ways between mountains, lending this track a definite Tyr influence. The unplugged chords and distant keys lend the track an earthy beginning. Oboe and faint hand drums instill a renaissance effect to “Kvaðning.” Electric guitar follows this folk rhythm resulting in metallic harmonies that hearkens back to days of early In Flames and Amorphis.

From the vocals to the guitars and additional non-metal instruments, “Baldur” thrives on magical harmonies. While the album is no scorcher by any means, the group does find balance of light and heavy. “Upprisa” is the fastest track that comes the closest to emulating the thrash found in Finnish folk metal. Hard-driven drums, chunky riffs and the high note melodies of Iron Maiden bridge classic and modern metal styles on “För.”

The collision of clean and harsh vocals and electric and acoustic instrumentation helps the group maintain a hard-and-soft balance, but the album could benefit from a dose of Berserker aggression. The album’s heroic sentiment will leave a lasting impression upon its listeners. “Baldur” blows Heimdall’s horn, summoning fans of Tyr and Bathory to gold-lined metal halls.

Highs: choirs, folk instruments, mystic vibe

Lows: A lack of aggression

Bottom line: Skalmold finds its niche in a Middle Earth full of folk metal bands.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)