Æther Realm
Redneck Vikings From Hell

North Carolina’s Æther Realm caused quite a stir with their astounding 2017 sophomore album, Tarot. Indulging in an addictive, intricate form of melodic death and folk. The album was my number one pick in 2017 and is regularly revisited several years later. With success comes high expectations, and prior to its release, worries had set in based on my lukewarm reaction to the album’s early singles. It has taken me quite a while to come to a firm conclusion and gauge my thoughts of Redneck Vikings From Hell. And I have a nagging feeling my final thoughts of the album may change again in coming months.

Raging opener “Redneck Vikings From Hell” kicks off the album with glorious bombast and righteous hooks, as the band lean into the humour and irony of Southern American lads playing a very European style of folky melodic death. Yet much like its predecessor’s rollicking ‘King of Cups” it is hard not to be swept up into the fun and excellent musicianship and swinging hooks. From this point on, Æther Realm take the listener on a weird and wild journey, generally compacting their more intricate writing and arrangements from the past into punchy, hook laden bursts of energy and ambition. Yes, for all the album’s flaws, it is a highly adventurous progression towards shedding some of their influences and sculpting a more unique identity. Unfortunately, some growing pains are evident in the writing department.

However, my initial disappointment has gradually dissipated with numerous repeat listens, where even songs I originally disliked have earwormed their way into my brain. Case in point, the somewhat questionable melodeath meets ‘80s pop cheese of “Goodbye,” featuring a parasitic hook that has proven increasingly difficult to resist. Amidst the choppy experimentation and stylistic twists, “Lean on the Wind” and “She’s Back” are tightly wound and aggressive melodeath rippers, adding welcome balance and fire to the album’s construction. Elsewhere, the depth and compelling leads of “Tmhc,” and the heart-wrenching “Cycle,” find Æther Realm in top form, the latter packing a particularly impactful emotional punch.

There is plenty of good stuff to absorb, though several songs do not quite come together as completely as I would like. For instance, “Slave to the Riff” features some questionable vocal choices and spoken word, while ”One Hollow World” is packed with energy but feels too reliant on its epic chorus. Meanwhile, the emotion charged ballad “Guardian” drips with cheese and melodrama, preventing my wholehearted enjoyment, amid the divisive experimentation in Æther Realm’s writing repertoire. Going out with an ambitious bang, 10-minute closer “Craft and the Creator” is a slightly bloated but mostly engaging instrumental piece, showcasing Æther Realm’s excellent instrumental chops. Performances are exceptional across the board, even if the well of great riffs and stellar leads do not run as deeply this time around.

Redneck Vikings From Hell turned out to be a much better album than I gave it credit for. I admire the band’s willingness to take risks and push boundaries artistically. Yet, it remains a frustratingly uneven, but oddly addicting listen. Tarot hit much harder on all levels, with more interesting arrangements, better riffs, and powerhouse emotional resonance. Through it all, Redneck Vikings manages to shine and cements Æther Realm’s status as a rising force in the melodic death scene.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
July 14th, 2020

Comments

  1. Commented by: Steve K

    Totally agree – I did NOT know what to think of this on the first couple listens, but it really does get under your skin after a while.


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