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SKÁLD: Viking Memories – Album Review
October 29, 2020 — Despite its prevalence in contemporary popular culture, the influence of Norse tradition and mythology remains largely centralized to the Scandinavian peninsular, Iceland, and parts of the USA (if they squint hard enough at a family tree to find a drop of Viking-associated heritage). The massive scope of Viking explorers throughout history goes some way to explaining why the culture captures the imagination so vividly.
Which brings us to SKÁLD, an oddity within the folk metal-adjacent scene, due to their French origin, but nonetheless a band committed to producing luscious, wonderful sounds that champion traditional Norse culture.
Formed in 2018 and already releasing their second record, SKÁLD adopt a historically authentic approach to folk that uses a combination of Old Norse vocals and traditional instrumentation. But where their first record felt like a delightful riffing on the Wardruna template, Viking Memories expands their skill-set exponentially, introducing elements that hint of a more widespread, global influence to their sound. Rather than dilute their original approach, this expansion actually gives a fuller, more rounded aesthetic to the music on display. The band has incorporated the best parts of other cultures that have mixed with Nordic folk throughout history — to produce ever more ambitious tracks whilst retaining historicity.
SKÁLD’s three vocalists reliably offer unique vocal melodies that take full advantage of the band’s talent. Their first record made much use of throat singing, but those rumbling tones are brought much higher in the mix for album #2; a canny move in a post-The Hu world (“Grótti” draws comparisons with the Mongolian sensations that took the world by storm). Showing the power of music as a shared universal language, the techniques SKÁLD make use of are derived from Old Nordic tradition and serve as a link to the other side of the planet. Set against vocal melodies typical of Nordic folk music, Viking Memories goes some way to communicating SKÁLD’s dedication to balance and harmony.
Such concepts are key within Viking culture and thus SKÁLD strike a lyrical through-line by relating each record to different natural elements. Moving away from the Earth and Fire that typified their past output, Viking Memories delivers strong instrumental harmonies that perfectly encompass both the serenity and tempestuousness of Water. In SKÁLD’s hands, folk music becomes an ephemeral force, constantly flowing and shifting whilst retaining a life and energy of its own. Water is not merely a motif — it is the core concept of Viking Memories, directing the lyrical content surrounding the Vikings’ relationships with it, nature, and the call to adventure from the open ocean; which took so many explorers out past the horizon and across to new worlds.
Unlike so many of their peers, SKÁLD doesn’t approach these adventures through the excesses of battle most often typified in Nordic associated music. String-heavy compositions in “Þistill Mistill Kistill” and “Sólarljóð” offer a uniquely human yearning sometimes missed within modern folk, particularly when tales of serpents and great battles come easier to the imagination’s eye. These songs provide an emotional counterbalance to such feats of bombast, a reminder of the vital essence of folk music as a tool of community and culture. This also harkens to the vital necessity of the Skald in the first place – an arbiter of history and stories, meant to educate but, most crucially, to entertain.
With so much of SKÁLD’s audience unable to speak Old Norse, it falls not on lyrics, but the music to provide the strongest hook for the listener. Thankfully, Viking Memories delivers by the boatload, with a miscellany of tempos and styles (including some decidedly Gaelic/Celtic sounding melodies on “Víðförla” and “Í dansinum”) keeping the listener utterly immersed in the sonically diverse world of Viking lore. If SKÁLD are an indication of what groups farther away from the Scandinavian heartland of Norse folk music are capable of, we can gladly bow to superior craftmanship that will have even the staunchest traditionalist whispering “Vive La France”.
Viking Memories is out now via Decca Records France.