So something like eight months after I expected this album it finally drops. We finally have the followup to “Red For Fire,” SOLEFALD’s first Iceland-inspired Viking Metal album. If you’re a SOLEFALD fan, you know the story by now: Lazare and Cornelius went to Iceland in 2005 with funding by Tekstforfatterfondet to write an album reflecting Nordic pagan heritage and ended up with enough material to fill two albums. “Red For Fire” was released in late 2005, “Black For Death” about a year later.
When listening to “Black For Death” you sometimes have to question if SOLEFALD actually had enough material to fill two albums, as this seems awful padded. “Underworld” is essentially a 1:15 saxophone solo that doesn’t really gel with the rest of the album (reminiscent of the opening of “Sun I Call” on the previous album), while “Spoken To The End Of All” just sees Cornelius groaning laments over some ambivalent violens (ie “Prayer Of A Son”). Jörmundur Ingi, the Icelandic goði (no, he doesn’t provide representation at the Alþing, he’s a modern pagan priest) who narrated “Lokasenna” on “Red For Fire,” is back and still unintelligibly quiet for the two “Lokasenna” songs here, accompanied by ambient, soundtrack-like orchestrations and the occasional guitar riff. Finally, “Silver Dwarf,” is terribly repetitive and dull.
So now that the bad and the dead weight is out of the way, what else do we have? Three brilliant songs, two good ones, and one mediocre. “Queen In The Bay Of Smoke” immediately leaves my head after I hear it, but it’s not bad. “Red For Fire, Black For Death” is a pretty good Extreme rocker (parallels with “Survival Of The Outlaw”), with an old-school THYRFING synthed trumpet build up in the chorus. “Allfathers” features some of SOLEFALD’s most straight-forward Black Metal material, but Sareeta (of ÁSMEGIN and RAM-ZET) is always there to inject some violin and keep it from being normal. Things really take off for “Necrodyssey,” where an off-time guitar riff keeps you unbalanced for most of a galavanting song. Lazare’s clean vocals take the center stage, but Corenlius is always there to back him up. There’s some wonderfully odd stopping and starting before the crazy Hammond solo. “Sagateller” reminds me of ÁSMEGIN’s “Blodhevn” for no particular reason, but is easily the most dramatic song on the album. It’s really grown on me with each listen as I realize just how much is going on here, especially after the 2:40 mark when things get really heavy.
The most remarkable song is probably “Loki Trickster God,” where Garm/Trickster G/Kristoffer Rygg (ULVER, ex-BORKNAGAR, ex-ARCTURUS) provides really excellent vocals. The first few listens, I was enchanted by Rygg’s performance and Sareeta’s violin, but when listening to “Red For Fire” again to make comparisons, I realized that “Loki Trickster God” is the same song as “White Frost Queen,” only with different vocals and a minute shorter. This version is rather better, I think due to Rygg’s charismatic presence, but I don’t know why they used the same music again or like that they did it.
Still, this is a definite step-up from “Red For Fire” in my book, though there seems to be more padding here. If you know when to hit skip, this is a really rewarding listen. Viking Metal, Black Metal, Avantgarde, and Pagan Metal fans should all check this out. I don’t think it edges out “In Harmonia Universali,” but it’s probably my second favourite SOLEFALD release to date.
(Online February 23, 2007)