Thyrfing
Vansinnesvisor

It wasn’t until I discovered the literal translation of the album’s title that the full depth of this album really hit me. After numerous listens, the darker, heavier approach had me a little stunned, and to be honest, a little disappointed. But after discovering Vansinnesvisor , means “Songs of Madness” (or “Lunacy”), it all came together. And I saw the light.

It should be no secret to regular readers that I love Viking metal – if it has a Thor’s Hammer or sword on the cover, I’m more than likely to dig it. So this was an album I was greatly looking forward to, especially to see if Moonsorrow’s last superb album could be eclipsed. Well, that is tough to answer as Thyrfing have recorded a superb album that, at its heart, is an indeed “Viking” metal, but as diverse and mature Viking metal album you will ever hear. Expecting the bouncing beer-hall antics of prior releases, Thyrfing instead surprised me with a grittier, dirtier, rawer output that still manages to contain the folk elements that make it distinctively “Viking”. However buried within the fiddle, acoustics and ethnic keyboards, is some discordant song structures, powerful riffing and sobering heaviness that transcend their other albums (as good as they are).

Firstly, vocalist Thomas Vaananen, just simply puts forth a brilliant performance, and his variations between venomous spitting, war-cry crooning and more controlled growling truly lends to the vibe of madness that permeates the album. The native tongue in most of the songs also benefits from Thomas’ throat; instead of the normal “Swedish Chef” feel, the vocals are now mean-spirited and forceful. Opener “Draugs Harg” kicks things off with probably the safest song, and it could have been culled from Valda Galga, if it weren’t for the very un-viking metal-like chaotic section part that hints at the slightly “insane” take on Viking metal Thyrfing have conjured up. Then things darken a little bit with the plodding “Digerdoden” (The Black Death), which is about the plague that wiped out most of Europe in the 14th Century; since when did Viking metal bands sing about this? Actually, this song displays one of the better performed “Viking” choir pieces I’ve heard. Instead of glorious and ale swilling, it’s sobering and moody. It shows how Thyrfing have evolved since their cliched debut.

Yet, it’s around the fourth song, though, where Thyrfing really start to gleam with menace and atmosphere, teeth bared behind a newly drawn sword. “The Voyager”, with its English lyrics and almost Middle Eastern vibe, sings of far journeys, and with the arabesque feel, might be a anthem for distant forays to North Africa and clashes with the Moors. It is a massively stirring and grim epic, and the breakdown towards the end of the song is more like Amon Amarth in sheer heaviness. The whole song is almost alien compared to the upbeat musings of Urkraft. The haunting vibe continues on “Angelstens Hogberg” (The Stronghold of Angst), one of the album’s better tracks, as its melancholy fiddle work is a mere shade of the over-the-top synth work from first three albums. It’s modern subject matter given a Teutonic tinker, and the result is astounding. If you want to really hear how far Thyrfing have come, simply skip to song “Vansinnesvisor” with its pure death metal lurch. The song’s huge main riff is more akin to Aeternus, and with its killer synth guitar switch, “Vansinnesvisor” is as dark as Viking metal can get; it’s violent yet eerily beautiful.

Keyboard-wise, synth man Peter Lof must not be happy as his bouncy antics of before have been cut back drastically, most of the songs having a soft undercurrent of ethnicity. The full-on cheese assault is gone, and when he does play full-on, it’s used for effect, which translates to a better dynamic. Take the foreboding synth-backed march on “Kaos Aterkomst” (The Coming of Chaos): it is timed and utilized perfectly within the framework of the Armageddon-based song. On Valda Galga, the synths were overly present in every song, while the guitars played second fiddle. Not so here. They are a perfect haunting beauty to the menace and harshness of the guitars. And so that leads me to the guitars and the rest of the production, for that matter. As this is the sole low point I have within otherwise excellent album. I gather there were some issues during the mixing phases that led the delay of the album. Well, it sounds like they could have delayed it a little longer as the drums sound flat, and the guitars could have used more bite. Lord knows the impressive death metal riffing is screaming for a deep resonant tone. But it’s a small point.

After the initial disappointment (as I do love my beer-swilling chant tunes), the full depth of Thyrfing’s new opus set in. Along with a new logo and modern Viking metal approach, Thyrfing are ready to move forward and leave the sword-waving pomp to Moonsorrow, so they forge ahead into far more ominous waters. If you’ve never heard Thyrfing, and find the devices of Viking metal too silly, Vansinnesvisor is the album to get. If you have heard Thyrfing, this is still an album to get but don’t expect to be up in arms with you horn of ale, as Thyrfing have graduated from the confines of regular Viking metal and crossed over into something far darker and foreboding.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
July 15th, 2002

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