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Danheim - Skapanir Award winner

by Kira Schlechter at 26 May 2020, 12:06 AM

Perfecting the art of songwriting in an instrumental context might be even more important than it is in the usual verse-chorus-verse-with-singing-and-lyrics structure. Done right, instrumentals can be just as much “songs” as something with singing and lyrics – and just as compelling. Copenhagen programming wizard Mike Olsen has done it right on his latest, “Skapanir.” He’s described on his website as having “eight years of experience in electronic and ambient music, focusing on Nordic folk and Viking-age-inspired music with a certain Nordic authenticity or mood … composed of ideas and stories based on the darker side of the Viking period, inspired or consisting of Nordic mythology, old Danish folklore, and a vivid imagination.”

This is the follow-up to last year’s “Hringras” and his eighth album since 2017’s “Munavagr.” After a brief introduction – of primitive low drumming and mournful fiddle – comes “Kala,” with its strong propulsive tribal rhythm, drifting vocals and programming. Hypnotic, evocative, and cinematic, it sets the otherworldly atmosphere that pervades the album. Nothing goes on tremendously long, which is really great – a mood is established and built upon and then is left to stand without further unnecessary adornment, which is what you want in an instrumental. Aside from the percussion, it’s hard to discern individual instruments, if there are any, but that’s OK – it rather helps to establish that what you’re listening to is A sound, not necessarily THE sound of something.

I was unable to find translations for all of the Danish words, but what I did track down is listed. “Blotjarl” (a jarl is comparable to an earl, a nobleman) is literally like eavesdropping on another time, featuring another riveting rhythm on low drums and various types of shakers. It’s at once raw and primitive and completely modern, which is a tough line to maintain and Olsen does it very well. “Aesir” (the divine pantheon of Norse mythology) is done with HELDOM (JANUS PEDERSEN), a fellow purveyor of this type of music. It is indeed a chant or a hymn, it seems, with chanted monotone vocals praising and invoking the gods.

“Forndagr” is a bit more uptempo rhythmically, almost like a dance. What sounds like fiddle is paired with more dense percussion and a droning melody that very nearly sounds like singing. Some of the drumming actually sounds like cracks of thunder in how it’s produced – there’s a certain echo, an erraticness to it. The title track relies more strongly on a powerful melody, established by what resembles a nyckelharpa or a droning hurdy-gurdy, almost more than the lilting dance-like rhythm. “Vetrnatta Blot” (perhaps a reference to a winter night) has that fiddle-like drone again and a lightly skipping, delicate rhythm. This time, there’s a more treble quality to the drumming, with the very clear sound of the sticks and a higher-pitched drum giving it lightness and buoyancy.

“Ragnakamp” almost sounds like crystals of ice falling behind the deep throaty rhythm and the higher-pitched clapping and sticks sound. Wolf howls and another engrossing fiddle-like melody flesh out the rhythm. “Reida,” with its sounds of lapping water, literally sounds like being on a ship. I was able to track down the English translation of the lyrics, and indeed, it is about a sea voyage (“Howling from the North/Over dark blue waters” and “The anchor loose/Before the sun sets”) sailing to war (“In honour of the thunder god … We must all bear weapons”). The sinister chanted/growled vocal almost sounds like beasts barely held in check, and the “chorus” is like a mantra – “Hail, Man, Year, Journey, Ice, Sun,” like honoring those sacred things before battle is joined.

“Blodfest” (also done with HELDOM) has shakers setting the rhythm along with metallic sounds almost like pipes banging, then settles into another great drum pattern. Layers of that fiddle/hurdy-gurdy sound add the melody and voices in whispers and drones behind provide further depth. The final track, “Hefna” (“revenge” roughly) is one of the longer songs, and it begins with the sound of a raven cawing, a faint fiddle, and a stick beating out an initial rhythm before the programming is added. Later, the main melody drifts way into the background and the rhythm takes over, along with a vocal drone, but it returns, faintly at first, then more strongly. Olsen leaves no musical loose ends – anything that’s mentioned is eventually revisited, which makes for needed continuity.

“Viking music” has taken on all sorts of permutations in the metal genre, of course, but it seems likely that what it might have really sounded like at the time was something not like AMON AMARTH, but something more like DANHEIM.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9
Overall: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Intro
2. Kala
3. Blotjarl
4. Aesir
5. Forndagr
6. Faldne
7. Skapanir
8. Vetrnatta Blot
9. Ragnakamp
10. Reida
11. Blodfest
12. Hefna
Mike Schaefer Olsen - Programming
Record Label: Independent


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Edited 15 July 2020

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