With more than 20 years under their belt Swedish Viking metal band Manegarm aren’t going away anytime soon and for that we can thank Thor. This latest outing features a varied bag from the veteran collective, from soaring, power-cum-black metal to ethnic folk and beyond. While that kind of diversity might spell the end of some acts in the metal horde it’s exactly that kind of risk-taking that makes Manegarm, and this record in particular, charming.
The opening “Blodorn” weaves a Jew’s harp hook in with tank-heavy guitar riffs and vocals that seem summoned from the deepest pits of the earth; it’s the seemingly impossible intersection of black metal and Appalachia but set in the heart of the Swedish countryside. (Or is that the skies over that fair land?) Parsing the disparate styles there will only do so much because at the end of it all, this song, and the others here are about advancing a goal: to awaken something primal and spiritual in us all and by three minutes into the seven minutes of this track, we’ve all signed up for the ride and are willing to follow it to its end no matter the twists and turns.
“Call Of The Runes” is perhaps a little more predictable in its unfolding but never the less for it; it’s a trampling, smashing metal attack that relentlessly assaults a listener who’s been lulled by the quiet folk interlude of “Blot” and “Vigverk—del II” (the latter replete with female vocals and a beat that might just inspire campfire dancing). “Kraft”, on the other hand, delivers a different kind of heaviness, an almost glacial progression as the listener marches with the band from one end of the tune to the other, enjoying each nuanced passage and each eerie, slamming guitar figure.
Before long we’re back to the acoustic side of things with “Bärsärkarna från Svitjod”, though this time it’s just as foreboding as anything we’ve heard from electric moments of the record, though its place in the sequence does bother a little: Why not group more of the like-minded songs? It’s tough to say and one might suggest that with so many spheres to juggle the band just couldn’t find a better way of blending the loud and the soft. That said, there’s nothing that can really be taken away from “Bärsärkarna från Svitjod”, it is superior for what it is and, like the closing, destined-to-be-classic “Allfader”, only deepens the mystique of this most unusual band.
That problem or quirk of sequencing aside this is a record for the metal community to remember, one that has sewn some interesting seeds and one that will surely take its rightful place in the Manegarm oeuvre. Early reception for this has been remarkably warm and it seems that trend will continue as the record makes its way into the world and finds its rightful audience.
Of course, questions remain: Can you play “Allfader” for your Swedish grandmother and will she like it more or less than “Kraft”? But that is a conversation for another time.