I am unsure where this somewhat morbid fascination with the past 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 settled the lands for whatever it was worth.
But here we are, and Viking Metal bands are legion these days, thriving in an ever increasing genre. And let’s face it: Metal with all its dark facets is just perfect to describe yonder sea adventures and battles alike.
Astonishingly, a smattering of metal bands, all of them adepts of the long vanished Northern bandits, pirates and looters actually comes from Canada. The aforementioned SIG:AR:TYR being one of them.
Theirs is an interesting prospect.
Indeed, Norsemen seem to have 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, current-day Canada, many years ago.
Part of that august group of bands are the Montreal-based Valfreya and their long-awaited second full length Promised Land. The album loosely covers the saga of Erik The Red aka Erik Thorwaldsson, who is mainly remembered in the Icelandic sagas and in conjunction with Greenland. If he ever reached today’s North America is a matter of debate. His son – Leif Erikson – apparently made it to modern day Canada later. But that is another story.
Now back to Promised Land: Viking Metal is more of a calling than a style, like Pagan Metal to name another one. Some bands lose themselves in dreary Black Metal lands, whereas others tend more towards Death Metal and its trappings.
Valfreya come along in a Pagan Metal robe, brutally based on some sort of a folksy, melodic, yet blackened Death Metal brand. You will find a lot of Finntroll-esque antics in there, with a growling and symphonic style sometimes very reminiscent of early Epica. In fact, a lot of the latter’s symphonics stick inside this record and you may throw in some Nightwish for good measure.
On top, they deliver their goods both in English and in their cute Canadian French accent. Whilst this might be frightening to you die-hard anglophones out there, hammering material out in two languages or mixes of both always adds to the overall quality of a record. That the band presents a female vocalists for both growls and very good clean vocals is another shining brownie point.
On the downside, the bricks are stacked high on Promised Land.
It is as if the band wants to win the loudness war singlehandedly. This high compression game plays contrary to the overall quality, no doubt about it. The record lands you with some sort of a chaotic sound salad at many turns of the record that risks to lose the audience. And that is a pity.
The same goes for the few solos in there. They just don’t shine the way they should. Or riffs that don’t come through because the drums kill you with blast beats. And the drums are an overwhelming terror on Promised Land. On top, the mighty soundscape almost drowns out the vocalist, whose voice should soar high above all that jazz, but doesn’t. And this, folks, knocks a few rungs off that ladder leading to a 10/10 rating Valhalla.
The record starts with a mercifully short intro of sorts with Horizon. One of the operatic, symphonic kind, Loki help me. Things luckily get a bit more sturdy later with Odin’s Fury, dripping with a fair amount of cheese. You will slip on it once you get to Odin’s laughter. Forsooth! It is however a pretty cool track nevertheless.
Mortal Supremacy and for sure Pandemonium take you on a pretty serious speedy metal ride. I like those two tracks. A bit overloaded with a gazillion of elements, but they still sport a good, powerful and sturdy style that will make you turn back for a second look. That said, the band definitely likes the more speedy route to metal throughout the album, without all of a sudden veering off into Power Metal territory.
Now, an approach to Folk and Folk Metal dominates the mid part of the record to about track #10 or so. Let me point out Promised Land (the title track), which is the most prominent in terms of song structure. Towards the end of the disc, the tracks degenerate into some mayhem of a more blackened kind. With the exception of the French interpreted Peuple du Nord.
In the end, Promised Land gets you a different take style, compared to what we see from the established folks these days. They serve a brutal, folksy, yet epically melodic version of Viking Metal or – if you prefer – Pagan Metal served in a blackened Death Metal wrapper.
Their tune packs enough variety, musical savvy and pretty sturdy musicianship to differentiate themselves from the existing crowd. By that very same differentiation, Valfreya created a quality record that will make them stand out and shine.
Promised Land definitely tells a story. And it tells it well. I like what I found.
Record Rating: 7/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Official Site