Vintersorg – Orkan
Being asked to review an album that is entirely in Swedish is the hardest review I’ve been asked to do since the last Sabaton album (but I cheated that time, and listened to the English lyric version!). There’s no cheating this time however, as Vintersorg’s Orkan is only released in Swedish. Orkan means “hurricane” in Swedish, and the album artwork is another clue about the albums meaning, featuring an enormous wave breaking on the open ocean. Though this album is not a concept album, it could be considered a thematic album around the element of air, or about weather in general. In addition to the title track, songs like “Istid” (Ice Ages)*, the mouthful “Urvädersfången” (Prisoner Of The Primal Weather), and “Havets Nåd” (Mercy Of The Ocean) all fit into the central theme driving the album.
Vintersorg, for those who have not heard them before, is a two man band from Sweden. Andreas Hedlund (who goes by the name Vintersorg now), is the multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and leader of the band, while Mattias Marklund provides most of the guitars. Hedlund fronts a number of projects, but his main band would be Borknagar, a folk/black/melodic/progressive/insert another adjective here metal project based in Norway. Though somewhat off the beaten path of standard Black Wind Metal fare, Vintersorg combine enough different elements of multiple genres to keep the interest of most listeners. Though there is very little power metal to their music, Hedlund’s sense of melody and use of symphonic elements will sound right at home to the rabid power metal consumer.
Hedlund uses harsh vocals that fall somewhere on the range between melo-death stylings and straight black metal vocals. Don’t worry yourself though, for those of you sensitive to harsh vocals, Vintersorg mix lots of clean singing into their songs, and you won’t be forced to suffer through cookie-monster growls or shrieks that sound like they were recorded in a tin can. Orkan was not recorded in a tin can, Hedlund is no cookie monster, and it is nothing like a lot of black metal, folk metal, or viking metal. What Orkan is, is a well done piece of progressive folk metal, with 8 strong songs across an elaborate soundscape, interweaving elements of multiple genres in an effective way.
“Istid” is the opener of the album, and I think the strongest track. It begins with clean vocals (using harsh vocals as background), and immediately the truly symphonic nature of this album comes to the forefront, with some heartfelt synth horns being used to accentuate the melody. “Istid” is a good introduction to the band, because it combines so many genres. Beginning with clean vocals, moving to a segment that would sound at home in most black metal bands with rapidly picked dissonant chords on the guitars, blast beats on the drums, and Hedlund’s unique shrieks sounding over the top, and then moving back to clean vocals with an almost-power-metal like riff on the guitars underneath, this song illustrates well what you can expect from the rest of the album.
The title track has some of the best clean vocal sections on the album. In fact, most of the song is clean. “Orkan” sounds much more like a traditional folk metal song, combining power metalish guitars with a combination of clean and harsh vocals at a mid-tempo pace. There is a nice piano melody that begins the song, and recurs repeatedly throughout it. My one complaint is that this song doesn’t really give the listener a “hurricane” mood, despite the title of the album and of the song. The fact that I do not understand the lyrics could have something to do with this, but the song itself could do a better job of representing a hurricane.
The heaviest track, and also the longest, is “Polarnatten,” which, despite the soft orchestral introduction, is the closest to black metal the album gets. The blast beats and tremolo picked guitars are back with vengeance, and Hedlund’s voice introduces the guitars with a deep growl. Much of this song is sung with harsh vocals, but Hedlund’s are usually top notch, and this song is no exception. Even on this more extreme song, melody plays a very important role (even during the harsh portions), and the band finds ways to work clean vocals into the mix as well.
Vintersorg isn’t a band for everyone. They lean more heavily towards folk and viking metal with some pretty heavy black influences, but if you like folk and don’t mind harsh vocals I’d encourage you give this band a chance. If you are a fan of groups like Ensiferum, Fjoergyn, or Equilibrium, you will find much to like about Vintersorg. Though they aren’t as atmospheric as Fjoergyn, not as outright catchy as Ensiferum, and not as cheesy or symphonic as Equilibrium, they combine many of the elements of all 3 bands into something relatively unique to themselves. If you’ve heard any of Hedlund’s other projects, namely Cronian or Borknagar, you will also hear a lot of carryover from these projects. Orkan is a well put together album with much to like, but without much to distinguish it or propel it to the realm of greatness. If you’ve never heard Vintersorg, this is a good starting place, though it is not their finest moment (I’m partial to their debut album Till Fjälls, and 2004’s The Focusing Blur myself).
Graham’s Rating: 3.25 out of 5
*A note on translations: I do not speak Swedish, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so if any of these translations (acquired through personal research and liberal use of google) are woefully inaccurate, I apologize.