Constantly snarling at the ear, the debut album from Italian metallers Ulvedharr leaves a wealth of satisfaction in its wake as powerful and invigorated as the thrash/death metal fusion which inspires it. Charged with the blood of Vikings surging through its muscular insatiable veins, Swords of Midgard is an uncompromising and raw slab of brute force which ignites the rampage in all of us. Certainly the nine track release is not breaking into new battlefields of invention but it lays waste to those established with contagious confrontation ripe with captivating aggression.
Founded in February 2011, the Clusone band was initially intended as a solo project by vocalist/guitarist Ark Nattlig Ulv, but as songs were written he pulled in other musicians to bring them to life, Ulvedharr ultimately being completed by lead guitarist Fredreyk, bassist Klod, and drummer Mike Bald in line-up. Their first EP Viking Tid followed as well as a European tour with Blood Red Throne and Cattle Decapitation the next year, with the quartet expanding their growing recognition at home and further afield. The signing up with Moonlight Records for their impressive and antagonistic debut album has given them a platform build from which they have seized hungrily.
The album’s intro sets the scene, its sinews flexing as crisp bone splintering rhythms, a carnivorous bass growl, and prowling riffs badger the ear until tender and prime for the taking by the following Lindisfarne. The track instantly segregates the senses from safety with intensive riffing, exhausting energy, and a barrage of drum forged abuse which is skilled and hungry. Into its rapacious stride the band opens its muscular intent wide for the corrosive tones of Ark to scowl and bend the will of the listener with a brutal but compelling vocal delivery; imagined Viking facial hair and vindictive malice enclosing every brutalised and captivating syllable. The impressive start instantly brings thought s of bands such as Entombed, Blood Red Throne, Obituary, and UK’s Saqqara, its rampaging perfectly crafted assault as irresistible as it is knee buckling.
The following Odin Father Never Die and War is in the Eyes of Berserker continue the immense start with equalling ferocity and appeal, the first thrusting riff sculpted grooves in to the heart of the already fully brewed urgent appetite for the release whilst savaging the ear with further addiction drawing rhythmic abuse from Bald. His framing alongside the bass and guitar manipulation of primal bred notes and chords combines for a test which is uncomplicated but wholly effective. The second of the pair slips a delicious almost stoner seeded groove into the initial invitation, the chugging riffs stalking its presence before thrusting it aside for another tremendous thrash forged impressive slaughter. The unbridled attack now at large is not without mercy though and midway into the song it steps aside for a glorious sonic fire of melodic seduction from Fredreyk to recruit the last ounce of submission from the passions. As mentioned already there is nothing new on the loose here or across the album but as it feeds the ear for the umpteenth time whilst writing this piece, it is hard to offer any similarly gaited release as one which is as rewarding or exciting as Swords of Midgard.
Onward To Valhalla stands as the next pinnacle upon the release, arguably its finest moment, the anthemic lure of the chorus and its mass demanding harmonies a thrilling crescendo to a constantly building intensity carved by the persistent riffs, gravel expelling vocals, and as is the norm a rhythmic attack which leaves bruising with every bitch slap and barbed percussive swipe.
There is for personal tastes a slight lull to the might and stance of the album across both Beowulf & Grendel (Part I) and Ymir Song, and though neither track lacks quality or skilled persuasion, they do not light the fires inside as dramatically as their predecessors. The first of the pair features a guest appearance from Lorenzo Marchesi (Folkestone) and is riddled with infectious grooves and melodic beckoning within the skeleton of steel forged rhythms and greedy riffing whilst the second brings a more melodic tenderness to its still eye to eye metal encounter and compelling drive, with the glorious vocals of Lisy Stefanoni (Evenoire) bringing a rich potency to the climax of the song alongside the folk metal march and the scarring scowls of Ark. As stated both tracks are strong and more than decent but sandwiched between what came before and their successor the excellent The Raven’s Flag, they lack a dramatic punch.
The Raven’s Flag gnaws on the bones of the listener, its anthem enriched breath and provocative confrontation joined by a blistering drum testing and a rabid fury of persistent riffing. The band equally seduce with the melodic and sonic fascination which veins the barbarous encounter whilst its closing run through to the finale of the album is wonderfully barbaric tenderising the listener for the sneering riff fest of Harald Harfagri, a track leaving a final uproar with its outstanding group vocals, with those of Ark singularly at their most diverse and impressive, and an unrelenting chewing of the senses.
Swords of Midgard may not bring new realms to conquer but is one familiar battle which could not be more enjoyable and rewarding.
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