For the people who love the newest release by Vreid, Welcome Farewell, it would be of interest for you to spend some time with the band that started it all; Windir. Windir originally combined folk and black metal together reminiscent of Hammerheart-era Bathory, though they became more like Enslaved when they dived headfirst into prog (and changed to English lyrics); Windir were a unique band and one respected throughout Norway, by infusing the viking lore with the Sognamål language and helping add authenticity to the music’s origins of ice, warfare, and heritage. The band’s second album Arntor was released in 1999 and is well worth the journey we are about to embark on for it.
The accordion notes played from the beginning of “Byrjing” create a setting for this most unique of metal atmospheres; the band pulls no punches with a strong Scandinavian feeling that prepares you quite well for the icy expedition ahead. This was to be a mostly solo effort from multi-instrumentalist madman Valfar, who may have been of the mindset less is more as far as band members (this was true until this album’s 2001 follow up, 1184 which saw future Vreid members join). The grand scope of Valfar’s mission is fully realized on “Arntor, ein Windir” when the intertwining of all his hard work weaves together masterfully; harmony upon riff, harsh vocal upon rhythm; truly a sound to behold. The drums sound the battle towards the middle of this quite complex composition as a war cry is let out and the battle then begins as the meaning of Windir (primal warrior) is then understood. Folk music blends excellently with black metal as both have their fair share of variety and subtlety which when working together “pop” in a way that is tough to explain other than listening to the songs themselves.
Following one epic with another is “Kong Hydnes Haug” with the emotion lying heavily in the melody. A war chant comes in towards the end of the song, which sees several voices join together in unison celebrating one of Windir’s favourite themes – brotherhood. The power and grandeur of “Svartesmeden og Lundamyrstrollet” with black metal fervour as the tremolo riffs work in conjunction with the wonderfully weird keyboards. The tempo changes quite abruptly near the middle when it transforms to a mid-tempo gallop and then right back into an Emperor like synthesizer romp. The wonderful melodies that occur on this song as well as the rest of the album are nothing short of masterful; it is hard to not be blown away by the strength of these compositions each and every time you hear them.
The next song, simply titled “Kampen”, trots in with a folk flavour which creates a relatively rustic mood about it. You get the feeling that you are surrounded by townsfolk as you enter a newly found village; that is until you come across an ominous riff that takes this song to the next level around the 2:50 mark. The bass appears to be the root of all of this as it sounds like a bellow from below the earth, before then taking a cue from black metal and eventually returning to the main riff and the aforementioned folk flavour. It is with these quick changes that wonderful new bands like Panopticon have been able to successfully meld folk music, culture, and black metal into the perfect little maelstroms that this style has become.
The album wraps up with the penultimate 10 minute epic “Saknet”, and the track simply named “Ending”; the ice gets colder the riff ass become more melodic and varied evoking the feeling of travelling up the side of a mountain on the edge of the world comes full circle. The synthesizer from earlier makes it’s presence felt as quickly imitates the sounds of local folk instruments while the guitar stirs up haunting riffs that compliment each and every other instrumental section of this beautiful song. The clean vocals do a great job to place themselves within Valfar’s Norwegian nightmare -the fury of his vocals feel as though they are leading to the inevitable end of the album as he seems to become more desperate as the album goes on.
The sounds of a church organ are recycled from the album’s opener as if there may have been a battle hymn taking place. Soaring guitars are a staple of the final 2 minutes of this song and make a great use of emotion as black metal is never a genre to shy away from one’s feelings. “Ending” is far more than the outro you would think it would be as this is a 3 minute black metal sprint towards the finish line with plenty of keyboards on top of speedy riffs and pounding drums.
Windir’s influence can be felt in both the folk metal and black metal scenes as well as the future involvement of Vreid’s members. Valfar tragically passed away in 2004 due to hypothermia, but his legacy will always live on in Norwegian metal lore. Arntor was Windir’s true masterpiece and one that many solo black metal musicians would look to for inspiration, as it is an incredibly difficult tome to top. Feel free to drop me a comment about a band you’d like to see covered, or just leave one as a sign of good faith. For what I’m currently listening to you can always check out my Last.fm page. For now let’s check out some more folk/black metal some with a viking twist.