Voluspaa - Åsa
Aurora Australis Records
Black/Viking Metal
11 songs (53:40)
Release year: 2010
Reviewed by Vrechek
Surprise of the month

It might just be my short-sightedness when it comes to a broader perspective of the Metal scene in general, but I think there is a serious drought of some serious Black/Viking Metal these days. Much of today's bands that parade to be born-again vikings are nowhere near my ideal image of what Viking Metal should be: a style reminiscent of Enslaved's first few albums. That is not to say that I believe the Equilibriums and Ensiferums of the world should hang up their plastic swords or switch their style from an Extreme Power Metal-based sound to the icy and grim nordic tremolo-picked blasts of Black Metal. No no, I'm fine with catchy, melodic, and epic Folky Viking Metal; I just wish that there were a few more bands out there that mixed it up with a more Blackened edge. Few well-known current artists have accomplished this mix and match feat, the leader of the pack being Moonsorrow (especially their recent releases). However, I've managed to find what I believe is the relatively rare breed of true Black/Viking Metal in Voluspaa.

A brief background check on the album I'm about to discuss: Åsa is the culmination of Freddy Skogstad's (mostly) one man band career that stretches back all the way to 1994; Voluspaa has only just released their first album after sixteen years and four demos. A good number of the songs on those demos were reworked into new versions for this album, and the variety in the album's style can be partially attributed to the band's long history. (What you can hear of) the early demos before the band's hiatus circa 1998 are raw and abrasive Black Metal with obvious nods to early Viking Metal greats such as Bathory, and can be likened to the pre-name change Hades albums. While only two songs from this period made it onto Åsa, the gritty and evil edge of those early days is very much prevalent in some form or another on nearly every track.

The meat of Åsa is variety. I hate to use what has become a reviewing cliché at this point, but I must point out that from the very first track we hear what is to come in the rest of the album. This opener, Av Sin Klokskap, has got pretty much everything I'd want in a Viking Metal song: a soft and slow opening with acoustic guitar and strings, followed by indistinct female vocals until the guitars come crashing in with an accompanying viking chant and folk instruments. You can almost hear those longboats a-rocking at this point. After this passage of heathenish melodies, the song turns into a thundering storm of heavy, down-tuned riffs and then a vicious, razor-sharp, tremolo-picked section of Black Metal fury with Freddy's high and raspy screams. The song switches back to the swaying epic style with a spoken word passage thrown in for good measure, and then the song ends with an acoustic guitar that is soon joined by a lingering, sorrowful piano section.

Though you might find faults with Åsa, a lack of variety certainly would not be one of them. There's never an overabundance of folk and acoustic elements, not too much jagged nor clean riffs, and not too much singing nor shrieking. Each song is balanced between all the different aspects of the band's sound, and it was quite obvious that Freddy took great care not to bore the listener with too much of a good thing at a time. The track order is excellently paced with a mix of slower and faster songs including the impressive acoustic ballad Mens Månen Lyser Opp appearing late in the game at track number eight.

Of course, all the variety and uniqueness in the world can be for naught if the quality of the pieces and whole is sub-par. So how good is Åsa really? Well, that's a tough question. There's plenty of epic melodies, vicious distorted guitars, and the whole bag of Viking Metal tricks, but when you start to look at the album as a whole, you see that it just doesn't come together in a way that makes truly outstanding works what they are. The performance and writing is just too, well, pedestrian. Nothing really and truly jumps out at you and grabs you by the balls, yelling “LISTEN TO HOW AWESOME THIS SHIT IS!” Yes, there are some brutal bits to this band, but they still sound a tad too “safe” for Black Metal. The choruses can be as epic as Odin's beard but they still don't make my heart swoon the way other bands in the genre have.

So, if you're looking for folky Black/Viking Metal with a good mix of the elements I mentioned and don't require the most groundbreaking or impressive album, Åsa should be worth your time. Personally, I have yet to determine the album's longevity. I've probably spun this album at least twenty or more times over the last few months, and it hasn't gotten to the point where I feel tired with it. I may not remember Åsa as one of the pinnacles of 2010, but it is still worth a listen all the same.

Killing Songs :
Vrechek quoted 84 / 100
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