I am unsure where this somewhat morbid fascination with the history of marauding Norsemen going Viking comes from. After all, they invaded the homesteads of foreign populations, looted, killed, raped, and enslaved until there was no one left. And then they settled the lands for whatever it was worth. I believe the dwellers of the early English kingdoms would have a few stories to tell.
But here we are, and Viking Metal bands are legion these days. And let’s face it: Metal with all its dark facets is just perfect to describe yonder sea adventures and battles alike. The RMR crew already covered this ever-increasing genre quite extensively with famous bands like Tyr, Amon Amarth, or – again – SIG:AR:TYR.
And astonishingly, a smattering of Viking Metal bands actually comes from Canada. Indeed, Norsemen apparently landed and lived for some time on the North American continent. Remains of Norse habitats were – for instance – discovered at Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland many years ago. Promised land, they must have thought. But it seems that the feisty Skraelings1) gave them hell, so this did not last. But nobody quite knows for sure.
Part of that select group of Canadian bands is the Montreal-based Valfreya with their second full-length record Promised Land. The album loosely covers the saga of Erik The Red, who is mainly remembered in the Icelandic sagas in relation to Greenland. If he ever reached North America is a matter of debate. His son – Leif Erikson – apparently made it to modern-day Canada later. But that is another story.
Viking Metal and Folk Metal is more of a calling than a style. Promised Land sports some sturdy brand of elegantly blackened Folk Metal based on Melodic Death Metal with a lot of group chanting thrown in for good measure. You will find a lot of Finntroll-esque antics in there, too. Mixed with growls and symphonics sometimes kinda reminiscent of early Epica.
On top of it all, Valfreya deliver their goods both in English and in their native French Canadian accent. And yes, I am looking right at you, Peuple du Nord. Now, whilst this might be frightening to those die-hard anglophones out there, hammering material out in two languages (almost) always adds to the overall quality of a record. And this one is no exception.
Yet sometimes, methinks that the band tries to win the loudness war singlehandedly. The compression stacks these bricks high and often the drums overwhelmingly drown out everything else. And especially the vocalist, which is a no-go in my book. Kill the audience with blast beats? This just won’t do.
Promised Land starts with Horizon, a mercifully short faux-operatic intro of sorts. And, by Loki, these intros always kinda wear on me. Things luckily get a bit more sturdy later, once Odin’s Fury hits the ground. In fact, this is one of the more interesting tracks with its airs of crossover into the prog/alt arena. Yet, you’ll still slip on some cheddar once you get to Odin’s laughter.2)
Mortal Supremacy and for sure Pandemonium take you on a pretty serious metal ride. I like those two tracks that partly come with some juicy group chanting. Albeit that there’s a bit of an overload with a gazillion elements thrown in for good measure.
That said, Valfreya definitely like the more speedy route to metal throughout the album. An approach to well-garnished Folk and Folk Metal that dominates the record but intensifies as of the mid-point.
Now, the aforementioned Peuple du Nord goes hand-in-hand with Promised Land (the title track). Folksy choir vocals with a tasty metal veneer. A captivating filet piece that the band chose for themselves. Interestingly, they left the hardened metal somewhat behind. Instead, the band started to sport a much more folk-oriented brand of alloy.
In the end, Promised Land gets you a different take on style, compared to what we see from the established folks these days. And indeed, the band serves a moderately brutal, distinctly folksy, yet epically melodic version of Viking Metal. Or – if you prefer – Folk Metal offered in a pretty melodic pagan Death Metal wrapper.
But finally, their tune packs enough variety and musical savvy to differentiate themselves from the existing crowd. By that very same token, Valfreya created a quality record that will make them stand out and shine.
Promised Land definitely tells a story. And it tells it well. We should have more of that.
Record Rating: 7/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Official Site
Release date: 13 January 2017