Melodic Viking death metal masters Nothgard are alive and well in 2016, having produced a number of superb albums over the past decade. And while each album is worth owning, it is the band’s 2011 masterpiece Warhorns of Midgard that has best stood the test of time as a near-perfect execution of the pagan-themed metal many extreme metal fans have come to recognize as a fusion of modern, crushing metal, complete with harmonized guitar leads, the incorporation of folkish elements, and intelligent lyrics and song titles that reinforce the mythically thematic elements woven into each one of Warhorns of Midgard’s tracks.
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Over the past 15 years, the sub-genre of Viking-themed metal has grown exponentially, meaning there is no shortage of technically adept musicians seeking to honor the glory of the conquests led by Scandinavian explorers from the 8th through the 13th centuries. All too often for fans of extreme metal, however, such records emphasize the folkish elements of pagan metal while sacrificing the speed and brutality that not only conjures the power of the AEsir but also provides the aggression and fearlessness of the fearless Norsemen who sailed around the world to discover and conquer.
Fortunately, Nothgard delivers both the folkish and the brutal in equal parts, making for a thoroughly enjoyable, motivating, and respectful tribute to those who came before us and risked everything to discover new lands for both plunder and settlement. Simply put, Warhorns of Midgard does not let up from start fo finish, and each song offers a unique variation on the pagan metal formula.
As readers of MetalAteMyBaby.com know, only individual songs thus far have been rated according to a formal and numeric system. Nothgard’s masterpiece will be the first full-length effort to be evaluated in a similar fashion, though, with this being a test run, the categories and rating system may seem crude and are subject to change moving forward.
As this is MAMB’s first attempt at formally quantifying the merits of an album, the categories may seem somewhat abstract–and perhaps even unrelated to one another.
Sheer Epicness: Viking metal is inherently epic, given that the music provides an exhilarating soundtrack for lyrics detailing the heroic exploits of our Scandinavian forefathers. The galloping pace of Nothgard’s double-bass driven attack alone supplies an epic foundation for the rest of the band’s instrumentation, while twin lead guitars further play on the primitive instincts that lay dormant in every man and woman of Nordic decent. (9/10)
Technicality: The elite pagan metal bands are as technically accomplished as many bands identifying as technical death metal outfits. To be sure, Nothgard dispenses with erratic, unpredictable time changes and overly syncopated drum beats–and yet, ultimately, this restraint makes Warhorns of Midgard that much more listenable. The technical prowess is there, to be sure, but it serves the thematic message of the music instead of overshadowing it. (8/10)
Thematic Excellence: The cohesiveness of the thematic message featured on Warhorns of Midgard truly sets Nothgard apart from their talented counterparts within the pagan metal genre of extreme metal. For example, the album’s second track, “Arminius,” tells the story of the titular character and his efforts to unite his clan in pursuit of freedom and happiness. Two songs later, “Einherjer” recounts–in German–the inevitable consequences of taking up the sword and heading to battle. Following an instrumental track, the second half of the album probes further into the choices, sacrifices, and consequences of living and dying by the sword, culminating with the album’s final track, “Ragnarok,” which, of course, reminds the listener that the pagan end of the world means “[T]he end of all / no one to escape.” (10/10)
[Author’s note: Until MetalAteMyBaby.com finalizes the remainder of the rating system, Warhorns of Midgard and subsequent albums will be rated on a scale of one to 30.]
As mentioned, Nothgard is alive and well and continues to produce music well worth owning. If you’ve never listened to this immensely talented band, start with Warhorns of Midgard. You’ll become a fan upon your first listen.