King of Asgard
...To North

If my memory doesn’t fail me, I was a pretty damned vocal fan of King of Asgard‘s even before they signed on to Metal Blade. They made an extremely impactful entrance in the industry with their first record, and were quick to establish themselves as one of the modern driving forces of the Viking metal schtick with a sound that is as epic as it is enchanting, and a very rich and seasoned layering best characterized by the Swedish death-black moniker. I’m also positive these guys must slay in a live setting, and that the songs on ”...to North” must strongly benefit from their collective onstage channeling of raw energy and adrenaline. That being said, this second album ain’t as grand as it could’ve been, in my personal book.

It undoubtedly has a kickass production and a very broad landscape of possibilities, only those don’t get fully exploited in terms of riffery throughout, much to my surprise; I’d expected each and every of these cuts would hit as hard as can be, and was left only half-convinced that this disc will stand the test of time as much as its predecessor. Pieces are missing from this one frame to make it complete, although I do believe that, in some cases, passages of these tunes can be better understood after several consumptions; nevertheless, whilst the band calls this record an evolution in sound, I see it as a definitely varied and seasoned piece of work that can cause a monstrous hit as much as a noticeably flawed couple mishaps at quite a couple turns. This is more than I can say about what I thought I’d be in for when sitting down with whatever these guys ever put out: if anything, I’m quite adamant about the theory that the third disc will fix up the leaks and grab on to their best capacities to create an even more astounding final product that will completely cause all of us to forget the gaping holes in this one piece. Still, I can’t say anything on this record sounds literally bad; it just sometimes feel considerably not fleshed out enough to hit that one mark they’re known to never miss.

Opener ”The Nine Worlds Burn” (which was the first single to be released by MB) is one of the two most solid cuts on here, which is to be expected; a song like this one ought to be pretty damn hard to top. The main riff is absolutely stalwart, and it morphs into ever so brilliant work that’s simply all over the place within the verses, sounding intricately layered. It’s quality stuff throughout and is no less than exactly what we have come to long for coming from this one circle of musicians. The melodies are totally mesmerizing, and Heléne Blad’s guesting on this track sounds particularly revitalizing and induces a couple shivers, invoking an ancient ambiance and some imagery all of its own. It has a powerful reach. ”The Dispossessed” kicks off with even more absurdly fucking catchy and effective riffery that got me thinking these guys absolutely don’t mess with one’s patience; they pull off the creativity on that front in an effortless and irrefutably impressive manner.

That being said, it’s the case for the first half of the album, and seems to lose headway at one point, but it doesn’t completely face plant without one chance at interrupting the zoneouts; it simply doesn’t hit the mark all through the record just like I thought it would. In this one track, it sometimes falls behind, albeit less noticeably so than further on (in tracks such as ”Plague-Ridden Rebirth”, for example). The main riff in the verses is quite simple, with some nice leads crawling atop, and the chorus is definitely interesting. It’s less of a solid track than the previous one for damned sure but still sounds quite dandy, and undoubtedly remains in the KoA territory of relatively good outputs. The riffage ideas around the 1.47 mark are a tad sub-par though, although interest is quick to pick up again on a steady route. There seems to be a couple holes in the structure of this song though, and it sounds a tad shy in comparison to what I’ve heard from this band before, the best analogy being that it doesn’t hit hard enough; even the vocal doesn’t sound quite as insistent as its usual.

”Gap of Ginnungs” goes into a far bleaker, more black metal-tinged direction, which suits this band when done with a good knack for nuance. The melody is fairly steady, and the vocals seem to have more bark now. 1.49 introduces some particularly stellar leads which are incredibly rich, courtesy of Mr. Jimmy Hedlund that doesn’t fail to impress me with this first half of his contribution to this song. 2.24 has a good chorus, which doesn’t cross the boundaries of this one descriptor; it’s no heavy-hitter, but still works. Around 3.25, much to my surprise, a zoneout settles in, as the whole pace of things seems to begin to get pedestrian. The solo at 3.49 spices things up greatly. It’s very melodically textured and well built, and seems to energize the whole body of work all of its own. ”Bound to Reunite” has this slightly proggier-sounding intro riff, that almost reminds me of Opeth (intriguingly enough in this context). It’s quite an interesting element to bring to this one tableau, albeit it seems to get quite laggy after a few repetitions, until the first verse kicks in with neat, tight-knit melody that goes on a bit of a neo-classical penchant. The melodic chorus is a steel-solid sing-along that never sounds dated or boring by any stretch whenever it comes around. There’s a nice mid-paced turn-around about 4 minutes in that’s very well thought-out, also. ”Nordvegr” is my second favorite on this album, with its intriguing main riffery, coupled with the catchiness and punchiness of its overall build. The drummer sounds especially tempestuous throughout. The down-paced chorus works as a dense build-up, topped by a very classic (and classy) typically Viking death metal melody, which keeps on ascending in key for a wondrously beautiful and enticing affect. All the winning elements are there to make this track a kicker of a safe bet. The shifts in pace keep it interesting from the first note to the last. 3.26 houses a slowing down in pace that doesn’t seem all that fitting, which is the only downer I got about this one, although it rushes back to the main song pattern which is no less than epic. This is classic KoA grandeur at its best.

”Up on the Mountain” is the point where things go ever so slightly askew. There’s very cool basswork in the intro, which is quite rad. The acoustic stringwork definitely adds a gorgeous color to this picture. The ambiance is nicely desolate, and the background chants sure as hell add to that. I have to underline that the emotion and pull in the vocals has a way of truly grabbing by the throat, which amplifies the strength of impact of this cut that seems otherwise a little on the stale side musically. The chorus sounds a lot better than the verses in terms of actual substance. The riffs herein are simply too formulaic and flat. This is far from being up to par with what this band is capable of, the first half of this record being direct proof. ”Plague-Ridden Rebirth” is even worse and quite frankly reduces interest down to an alarming rate. The brutality is fired up from the very first note, which is really quite misleading, since the general pace of this track drags its feet all across the board. That being said, the first verse is truly dark and penetrating with a nice background melody. The chorus is stunningly simple, but works well for this one layout, at first glance; as it gets repeated, it starts to sound very worn out very quickly. On the other hand, the drumming sounds very lively and helps matters slightly all through the span of the whole ordeal. Still, by the time 4.30 hits, the zoneout is almost complete (?) and the leads don’t even sound like they’re going anywhere. The hyperblasting around the end of the tune sounds great and could’ve been used a couple more times to give the tune an extra kick. When it leaves the picture, more unconvincing leads close out the tune, which seems to stretch out right towards oblivion. It wouldn’t have suffered a huge trim, all things considered.

The intro riffage of ”Harvest (The End)” is absolutely nothing special, neither is the work laid out in the verses. Interest has, for the most part, been fucked with since the last track died in the egg. Things improve when the chorus comes up, although it still has a fair predictability to it. The main riffage is rather bland, and even the vocal line sounds too automatic and could’ve used some dynamics. The spoken passage around 3.34 is a total bore and doesn’t help matters by any kind of stretch. Still, the title-track ”…to North”, being an instrumental of noteworthy beauty, has good nuances in its pace and great melodies to offer, closing out the album with more optimism on the table.

I would think the weaker tracks on this album are only slight mishaps along the way and that this band sure as fuck knows to keep on working its ass off to impress time and time again. There’s no doubt in my mind that the next album will pick up on the few aspects that didn’t work out so well here and do some serious refinery. Still, ”…to North” has plenty of kickers on the dial, and you don’t wanna miss out on these, if you’ve been interested in what these guys do since they showed up on the doorstep of the universe.

 

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Noch
August 30th, 2012

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