Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Irminsul - Irminsul (2009) 90/100.

Irminsul are a criminally overlooked and underrated band from Sweden in Scandinavia. Given the exposure the metal scene has it this particular part of the world, I cannot fathom why Irminsul haven’t experienced an astronomical growth in popularity given how well conceived and constructed their music is. Normally I’m not a fan of folk metal but Irminsul’s brand of folk-meets-Viking with a dash of Pagan thrown in is beautiful, catchy and skilfully crafted. As of late I’ve moved away from the metal genre a bit but I find myself coming back to Irminsul’s 2009 self-titled full-length debut. This is a testament to the guile of the band, one which has existed below the radar for far too long. Since 2005 Irminsul have kept going despite the lack of interest that seems to shroud the band and force them into relative obscurity. This self-titled album has just about everything a die-hard folk fan could want from a band of this nature.

From the black metal stylings of the rasped vocals and occasionally repetitive sections to the more experimental factors that win this album the majority of its accolades, Irminsul seem to have it all. So why haven’t they conquered the world with their brand of Swedish folklore inspired music? Well, your guess is as good as mine. I cannot understand why Irminsul are still a relative unknown on the metal scene. Their style and sophistication should be enough to win the hearts of those who don’t much care for folk, let alone those that do. I myself fall into the former category as I’ve overlooked folk inspired metal music for a long time. When it comes to folk as a genre, most people seem to have a stereotypical idea of what the music is like but, of course, there are bands who, within reason, like to push the boundaries and set about dismantling those preconceived notions about the genre.

Irminsul comfortably achieve this through very simple actions. First and foremost, the three-piece, who often rely on session musicians to help them along the way, experimental with a number of ideas that help push the envelop as far as achieving an original sound. Obviously, there is no escaping the fact that there are generic sections of the bands style - like the rasped vocals - but these are place side-by-side with aspects that aren’t normally associated with black metal, the very genre which gave the rasped vocal style its reputation. As with most songs on the album, the vocal display isn’t restricted to rasps only. As songs like ‘Frostfödd’ highlight well, the band also use clean male vocals and additional clean female vocals, which are, unfortunately, often restricted to a background role, performed well by Linda Fagerberg. How vocals leave much to the imagination as she tends to be dominated by the instrumental sections, as well as the rasping vocals.

Her performance is very much overshadowed by the aforementioned aspects but she still does a reasonably good job at forging a new sound, although her voice tends to play the same role as that of the clean male vocals, which are also chanted. These aspects of Irminsul’s game may seem small, as they’re sparsely integrated into the album, but they play a significant role in supplying the album with its fair share of folksy moments, especially when considering the fact that these aspects tend to feature alongside prominent performances by Ida Gudmundson on the violin and whomever is providing the excellent acoustics. Unlike a lot of folk bands, Irminsul don’t rely on keyboards or twinkling atmospherics. This album wins over its doubters with simple catchy melodies and experimentation with acoustics, violins and vocals. All three departments tend to bear the brunt of the beauty that comes flying off the disc and into our imaginations from the get-go. The atmospherics aren’t content to stick closely to too formulaic a stretch of play as they often shift between slow, mid-paced and fast sections.

The slower sections obviously represent the more beautiful side to Irminsul, whilst the mid-paced elements showcase the more thoughtful passages on songs like ‘Vakaren’ as the vocals join forces with the instrumentation, with a wonder section where the cleanly chanted vocals act as an underlay to the rasps and the moving passages of the violin. Songs like ‘Vakaren’ themselves use multiple tempo changes and layers with different tempos, too. For example, a solo will ring out across the soundscapes whilst the underlying passages of instrumentation will be more cautious and thoughtful. That isn’t to say the guitar solos aren’t good because they most certainly are. They add to the dynamism of the album and give it a real kick in terms of its overall catchiness, which is a major factor to the success of the album. The general lack of heaviness doesn’t tend to feature in my mind when critically analysing the music. Although it isn’t very heavy, the soft, melodic nature of the album doesn’t tend to require it to be something it clearly isn’t. A terrifically catchy and melodic folk metal album which deserves far more attention than it gets.

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