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Svartsot - "Ravnenes Saga" (CD)

Svartsot - "Ravnenes Saga" CD cover image

"Ravnenes Saga" track listing:

1. Gravøllet
2. Tvende Ravne
3. Nidvisen
4. Jotunheimsfærden
5. Bersærkergang
6. Hedens Døtre
7. Festen
8. Spillemandens Dåse
9. Skovens Kælling
10. Skønne Møer
11. Brages Bæger
12. Havets Plage

Reviewed by on December 28, 2007

"A collection of high energy tracks with infectious melodies that stick in your head long after you’ve had a listen."

Hailing from Randers, Denmark, Svartsot offers a delectable weave of auditory contrasts with a mix of folk and black metal. Through the blending of traditional instruments, like the prominent tin whistle, with the brutality of Claus Gnudtzmann’s death-style vocals, “Ravnenes Saga” is a collection of high energy tracks with infectious melodies that stick in your head long after you’ve had a listen.

Each song sounds different from intro to end, a feat unto itself sometimes when it comes to folk metal. It's a tricky genre to pull off anything overly unique, yet the sextet managed to keep me listening until the end. You won’t find any rip-roaring guitar solos here or a double kick that’s so fast you can’t decipher one beat from the next. What you will hear is good solid musicianship, well thought out tunes and an energy that will inspire you to plunder and frolic at the same time. Or at least think about it.

“Ravnenes Saga” – which translates from Danish to “Saga of the Ravens” – begins with the cover art, which shows two ravens in flight. According to Norse mythology, Hugin and Munin were two ravens sent forth each day by Odin, god of wisdom and war. Representing thought and memory, the birds would return in the evening, perch on the god’s shoulders and retell the events of the day and knowledge gained during their travels. These ravens have a tendency to show up throughout the album, in addition to a host of other elements from Danish folklore to Nordic mythology.

The opening track, “Gravøllet,” is a good introduction to the album as a whole: strong percussion, a tight rhythm section, chunky guitar riffs and catchy whistle melodies. The sextet’s chemistry is clear from the get-go and it’s immediately clear that if this is the energy on record, then these guys would be probably be worth checking out live.

Followed up by “Tvende Ravne,” Gnudtzmann really demonstrates his range and comfort level at both low and high growls and his ability to effortlessly (and rapidly) switch between the two. But that was only what initially caught my attention; the more I listened to this song, the more I heard the dualities within it. The first thing I noticed were the guitars during the intro: one is clear and playing mid-tempo and melodic riff, while the other is distorted and chuggy. Then, the contrast between the tempestuous vocals and the carefree tune of the whistle comes into play, followed by an almost call-and-answer effect between the high and low vocals during the chorus. Meaning “two ravens,” you can almost hear the banter of Odin’s ravens throughout “Tvende Ravne,” and whether intentional or not, the song comes across as both well written and executed.

Unfortunately, “Nidvisen” didn’t quite strike me the same way. This track launches well enough with a thundering guitar riff and a rapid fire/polka-tinged rhythm section, but it wears thin fast. Clocking in at just over four-and-a-half minutes, it’s the longest track on the album and it feels about three minutes too long. There are definitely some cool riffs and change ideas here, but when they keep repeating at exactly the same intervals...?

“Jotunheimsfærden” makes up for it nicely. Okay, so it starts off with a bit of cheese in the form of a playful whistle solo (for some reason, I thought of The Smurfs), but give it about 15 seconds until Gnudtzmann screams and you suddenly see that little butterfly you won’t admit you were imaging explode into the dust from which it came. All is well again. This tune has some of the heaviest guitar riffs of the album and is the first place drummer Niels Thogersen really shows his control with the double kick.

Opening with a lone bodhran is, in my opinion, one of the most atmospheric ways to call warriors into battle. I mean, c’mon, it’s just cool; and, if you’ve never heard the bodhran played by someone who’s actually skilled at it, you have no idea what I’m talking about. Check out “Bersærkergang” and you’ll understand. It only lasts maybe eight seconds before the fury is unleashed. And that’s what this song is about: a group of highly skilled Viking warriors associated with the god Odin and their tendencies towards rage, war and the fury of insanity that comes forth in the heat of war. “Bersærkergang,” or “Berserker’s March” is that madness where the warrior becomes animalistic and excessively strong. This track does a great job reflecting the legendary qualities of the berserker from the tribal feel of the drums and the hefty angst practically oozing out of the guitars.

“Hedens Døtre,” or “Heathen’s Daughter,” is kind of the ballad of the bunch. The song is mostly instrumental, save for some low growls near the end, and although it’s slower and has a more ethereal feel than the rest of the tracks, it still carries the dark undertones and angst of the album as a whole.

I couldn’t have picked a better song to follow the somber “Hedens Døtre” than “Festen.” This song punched me in the face with rapid guitar riffs and tight drum fills. The double kick works well here and you can almost sing along with the chorus; well, at least the occasional “hey.” The only tune lacking Stewart Lewis’ mad whistling skills does a great job proving he’s not the only source of melody. The song almost feels repetitive by the end, but before you can wish for something to change up, Gnudtzmann lets out one killer song-stopping scream.

The remainder of Svartsot's Napalm debut continues the celebration of booze battles and broads with the simple yet effective interplay between the whistle and guitar melodies in “Skovens Kælling ” and the crushing bass grooves and time changes of “Skønne Møer.” “Brages Bæger” has some sweet mandolin fills, which make for a great intro to “Havets Plage,” the final tune of the album and probably the funnest of the lot. One of the few songs that was re-worked from Svartsot's previously released demos, "Havets Plage" is aggressively driven by the mandolin. This song is by far my favorite track, even though I really could have lived without the 45 seconds of simulated rainstorm at the end.

Highs: The whistle stylings of Stewart Lewis. He knows when to play and when not to. He gives many of the tracks a melody to stand on, and does a wicked job of complementing the guitar leads and vocal lines.

Lows: “Spillemandens Dåse.” The mix on this track is great, as it is throughout the entire album, but for some reason, this tune lacks the energy the others have and I couldn’t really get into it.

Bottom line: Fans of folk metal will find this to their liking, and those who don’t normally dig the genre will appreciate the overall energy and aggressiveness and how tight this band is as a unit.

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)