Opening Thoughts And Confession:
I confess that I am not a massive fan of what is called folk or Viking metal. I do enjoy hearing it at festivals with a beer in hand (and a few in my stomach) or indeed in a small sweaty club with, you guessed it, beers! It isn’t a genre that I listen much to at home, however I was offered a band from that genre to review. The band in question are Atorc from East Anglia in England. Formed back in 2012 this 6 piece name check their influences as Turisas, Ensiferum, Iron Maiden and Bathory amongst others. Those influences can certainly be heard throughout the album which is called Under The Raven Banner. The “Raven Banner” being a flag in Norse or Viking Culture suggesting in part the power of Odin. Yes I did have to look that up! (If you want an education listen to metal and prog, it gets you googling.)
About The Album:
The band have made this their first full length album due to fans who crowd funded the project. The production is good with there being plenty of clarity in the sound and lots of atmosphere when required. The thing that struck me most was the violin work of Huldra (all the band have assumed names from Norse mythology it would seem, Huldra being a seductive forest creature, a tall nude attractive woman with a tail). She can make it howl and she can make it sing. Her playing adds so much to the atmosphere of the album. Nowhere more than on the opening track “Hrafnsmerki” (the Norse for “Raven Banner” apparently) which sounds like the start of a movie soundtrack. The violin cries and wails and is beautiful. There are spoken words over some of it (done by bassist Battlebeast) but I have no idea what is said or what language he is using.
From there it heads into more metal territory in title track “Under The Raven Banner” which has a Maiden feel to it. The chorus has a good hook to it and as a track owes more perhaps to power metal than folk. Being a folk metal outfit they have songs about drinking as well. “The Mead Hall” has a chorus that live should find folks singing quite loudly whilst swinging their beer containers around. It is easy to join in. “We drink, we fight, we dance all night“, yes cheesy as hell but still very infectious. The opening drum roll from Thor owes a lot to Motorhead and “Overkill“.
The longest track “Hammer To The Anvil” has a bit of variety to it. There has a real vibe of NWOBHM going on. It starts folky before the riff comes in. The way it drops down again after the guitar solo to focus once again on the violin is nicely constructed. Doesn’t sound hash or jarring. There is another quiet piece on the album half way through (“Sovngarde“) which features acoustic guitar and violin which is rather lovely. A break from the bombast and craziness of heavy metal meeting folk.
“Isle Of The Brave” is a real toe tapper. Live this should create merry hell with the audience. It is a very danceable piece of music. I thought of Blackmore’s Night whilst listening to it at the start, although it goes a little heavier than they do. It is jaunty and fun for the most part. One of my favourites on the album. “Ragnarock” starts slowly and builds. From a very melancholy start it heads into a mix of death type growls and power metal. It is one of the more interesting tracks for me as there are a variety of styles and moods within the track (I am a bit of a prog head so like stuff that moves around the place a bit). They finish with “Shieldwall” a track that reminded me a little of Helloween. It is a style that I heard described by someone as “happy metal”. Upbeat, fast and rather cheerful sounding. There is also a vibe of early Manowar about it.
So to recap, despite not being a huge fan of the genre I found enough to enjoy on the album, however I think live they should be great fun, which is to a great extent what Viking/folk metal is about. It is escapism. Forget your worries, drink beer, raise horns, sing your head off whilst bouncing around merrily. There is enough on here to suggest that they have good enough material and musicianship to do exactly that. If you are a fan of the genre then this is an album you will really enjoy. If you partial to a bit of power/folk then it is probably worth checking out. If they are on a festival bill or a club nearby then I suggest heading along to have a good time. I have a feeling they will deliver that.