Svartsot - Ravnenes Saga
Napalm Records
Folk Metal
12 songs (46:02)
Release year: 2007
Napalm Records
Reviewed by Kayla
Surprise of the month

I discovered Svartsot by hearing a single song of theirs, Gravollet, and was so blown away I immediately purchased the album from whence it came, Ravnenes Saga. Of course, in my excitement, I temporarily forgot all the times I’ve bought a whole album on the strength of a single song, then wished I’d saved my money on what proved to be a single moment of greatness amid an otherwise less-than-stellar album. Whenever this occurs, of course, I vow that next time, no matter how much I like the song, I’ll wait to hear the entire album before I buy it, and immediately forget this vow the next time a song from a new band blows me away. This behavior is encouraged, however, every time I encounter an album like Ravnenes Saga, and it so happens that the quality of that one song is entirely indicative of the whole.

My “gateway song,” so to speak, happens to be the album opener, and is a perfect introduction to the heavy, sweeping epic that follows. Gravollet begins with a galloping drum line laying a solid foundation, the bass intertwining, and a guitar riff that builds in intensity until a final strike of the drums launches the song like a Viking warship. A melody played on Irish whistles follows and supports the vocal line, a trick employed to good effect throughout the album. Claus Gnudtzmann’s vocals are, for the most part, a deep growl, and the high, ethereal whistles provide a dramatic counterpoint. Svartsot’s sound is melodic, but heavy and dark, matching Gnudtzmann’s vocals, and the whistles are an unexpected bit of light shining through a black forest.

Polka rhythms make an appearance among the other folk melodies on Ravnenes Saga, lending a bit of Finntroll’s sound to Nidvisen and especially the album closer, Havets Plage. The bounce, like the fluting whistle lines, helps to keep the songs from bogging down; most of the songs are so complex and thickly layered it sometimes gets a little hard to pick out what each individual instrument is doing. On the best songs of the album, this effect is more of a rich cohesiveness that digs the melodic hooks firmly into your skin. On the worst, it creates a touch of sludge that ends up drowning the melodies and making the song more of a pleasant background noise than something that demands your attention. Of course, this is the kind of album whose worst song can more than stand up to many an album’s best.

Besides Finntroll, Ravnenes Saga recalls another excellent Finnish band; in this case, Hedens Dotre, a slow, almost entirely instrumental track, irresistibly reminds me of Amorphis. Halfway through, Gnudtzmann lets loose a restrained, gravelly scream as the lead guitar licks into a harsh riff, and I almost expect to hear a slowly fading, heartwrenching cry of “black winter’s day” at the end. (No accusations of plagiarism here, of course; I would be rather surprised to learn that the two songs have two consecutive notes in common.) I’m still a bit torn as to whether or not Hedens Dotre really belongs on Ravnenes Saga; it’s a good piece of music in its own right, but it’s half the length of any other song on the album, and twice as slow and haunting, making it stick out a bit awkwardly and giving it something of the feel of filler.

Besides wishing that tracks like Spillemanden’s Danse and Skonne Moer picked up their feet a little, the biggest regret I have about this album is that I can’t understand the lyrics. Svartsot are Danish, and write in their native tongue; they provide liner notes in English, and reading those one- or two-line explanations just makes me think I’m missing out on some great material. Of course, that’s only a criticism of my own non-talent when it comes to languages other than my own native tongue. The expressiveness of Svartsot’s music quite makes up for any lack of mine; in the case of Tvende Ravne, dual timbres of growling makes the song’s dialogue between Hugin and Munin almost as clear as if I’d been able to follow the birds’ own arguments. Other fans of folk metal are bound to feel the same.

Killing Songs :
Gravollet, Tvende Ravne, Jotunheimsfaerden, Festen
Kayla quoted 88 / 100
Other albums by Svartsot that we have reviewed:
Svartsot - Mulmets Viser reviewed by Alex and quoted 72 / 100
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