For all you fact fans out there, a skáld was an ancient Scandinavian poet who popularised Norse myth and legend through their writings, so there’s a pretty good start for what this band sound like. Then think of sort of traditional folk you could imagine scoring The Vikings or The Northman, and you’re pretty much there. All of which can make SKÁLD a pretty tough act to critique, seeing as their clearest sonic throughline is about seven centuries old.
It’s a lot like Heilung in that respect, another outfit who’ve taken a dawn-of-music-itself approach in their work, but even then, SKÁLD aren’t entirely treading on their toes. For one, Huldufólk does make use of actual instruments, as opposed to bones and rudimentary percussive tools. The hurdy-gurdy gets its semi-periodic pop culture moment here, alongside the lyre, moraharpa, talharpa and nyckelharpa that all make for a lovely earthen tone among the strings selection. It contrasts with the rugged percussion and didgeridoo drone that fills out the atmosphere wonderfully, especially when there’s more aggression to them like on Ljósálfur, or groove on Ríðum, Ríðum. Put among the breadth of voices and timbres, both male and female, there’s an interesting contrast of masculine and feminine elements that SKÁLD put up rather well. Especially in the singing, the rugged, guttural male lows amplify the more typically tuneful female vocals, and vice versa.
It’s all about atmosphere on an album like this, and that’s really where Huldufólk shines the most. It’s produced to accentuate how well the layering works out, where each individual tone is allowed its own space and command a portion of the mix for itself. There’s some good variety that comes from that too; Då Månen Sken is excellently blended for each individual performer to play off each other, while the siren’s song (sjörån’s song?) of Hinn Mikli Dreki puts forward an ear for real delicacy and beauty. Again, it’s a case of nailing the atmosphere, and making the album feel suitably mythic and mysterious to fit the stories being told. It might be predominantly sung in Old Norse, but when this further reinforces the ‘voices as an instrument’ dynamic—and in cases like Mánin Líður, elevates it— SKÁLD’s blend is pretty intoxicating.
It’s also why the two closing covers don’t work as well, and while they get the percussive pound of Rammstein’s Du Hast (albeit without much of the meat on its bones), their take on The Cure’s A Forest is just flaccid and unmemorable. Maybe that betrays a shelf life for this sort of thing, but it more likely indicates how SKÁLD‘s approach works better on their own terms, rather than twisting something else to fit. After all, it’s knowingly incredibly niche, but it’s hard to think how said niche could be filled much better. In their ability to set a mood and provide a soundtrack to the misty fables of centuries past, SKÁLD do grab the attention in an indelible way. • LN
For fans of: Heilung, Wardruna, Einar Selvik
‘Huldufólk’ by SKÁLD is released on 20th January on Universal Music.
For I Am King
For I Am King delve further into the complexities of humanity’s relationship with power in their new album Crown. Following on thematically from their 2018 album I, For I Am King’s 2023 full-length showcases their ferocious evolving sound against a backdrop of historical commentary.
Introducing Crown is the opener Avarice. The intensity of the band’s guitar tones, and their polished heaviness makes a striking impact. From the off the combination of grounding bass tones and melodic leads creates a dynamically diverse sound, emphasized further with Alma Alizadeh’s demonic harsh vocals. Compelling motifs present among the instrumental layers bring a catchy element to the quintet’s song writing style without taking away from the thunderous design of the powerful rhythms. Liars manifests a fierce attack of anguish that flows from each instrument and vocal layer of the track. The darkened mood and angry lyrics result in an explosive outpouring. Melodic guitars and rhythmic percussion reveal a more technical style in Barriers.
The onslaught For I Am King unleash across the album sees doesn’t cease but rather evolves and metamorphoses across each track. Barriers continues the sheer abrasive sounds established across the previous songs but sees intricate melodies take on a more prominent role. Shrieking banshee screams emerge from Sinners. Accompanied with ethereal choirs and an anthemic chorus progression, this track conjures up an otherworldly air. This diverges from some of the heavier displays on the album embracing more of the mid-tones across the guitar melodies and layered synths. Segueing into the lighter intro of Bloodline, this section of the album sees more progressive and contrasting compositional aspects revealed. By no means has the guttural and djenting heavy been abandoned, however. Crown concludes with the hard-hitting and alluring Disciples, fusing together For I Am King’s melodic prowess, ludicrous power and more experimental side seeing melodies inspired by incorporating the Arabic scale.
2023 is already looking strong for metal releases and Crown from For I Am King is a perfect dose of heavy and melodic. The outfit clearly understand their sound and the directions they want it to explore. From the distortion-fuelled heavy to the technical, Crown is a fantastically produced enthralling album. • HR
For fans of: Ignea, Jinjer, Fallcie
‘Crown’ by For I Am King is released on 19th January on Prime Collective.
Sounds Of Acceleration
In a way, one of the worst things about Sounds Of Acceleration is how good it is. If it weren’t, maybe that would be some consolation for it being confirmed as Riot Stares’ final work. Instead, after delays stemming all the way back to 2019 and the passing of their guitarist Issy Varoumas in 2021, Riot Stares are understandably bowing out, but on one hell of a bittersweet note. When you’re striking properly on a one-off (earlier EPs notwithstanding) with a sound reminiscent of everything that everyone loves Turnstile for, that’s just an inevitability.
Okay, maybe not everything; Riot Stares don’t quite have those same vibrant or kaleidoscopic moments that made GLOW ON such a wonder. That’s about it though. Everywhere else, Riot Stares surge by with some unstoppable force; they come barrelling out of the traps and barely let up once. It certainly deems the album’s title appropriate, as does the unbridled rowdy spirit that Riot Stares so frequently let take the wheel. What Brad Marino lacks in strong vocal technique is made up tenfold by how consistently vital his presence is. When Shockwave literall revs into life with the sound of an engine starting up, it’s a good indicator for the sense of pace Riot Stares operate with. This sort of ‘90s-inspired hardcore tends to really hit the mark in that department and Sounds Of Acceleration is no different, packing in the grooves and beefy riffs with barely any excess fluff among it.
It’s the frequent beauty in hardcore like this, coloured by ‘90s alt-rock and emo that’s so melodically rich and satisfying, without overtaking what’s still needed to be a hardcore band. In Riot Stares’ case, they’ve got one of the fullest guitar tones that genre has seen in some time, translating to the fat roils of Trip Chain and Burst, and what even verges on the odd rapcore moment, like on Try To Spin. They aren’t the biggest swings outside their typical field that Riot Stares take—that would be the airy opening build to the closer In Motion, the sole instance of not-quite-working that the album has—but it’s enough to inject some extra colour that’s far from a bad thing. Not that there’s a deficit of that already, of course; Sounds Of Acceleration is flooded with freshness and vitality, to where the slim half-hour runtime is absolutely optimal.
Just everything about Sounds Of Acceleration feels on the ball, a burst of white-hot inspiration from Riot Stares that’s never to be replicated, but brings more than enough to the table on its own. It’s not hard to picture this slotting among the cool-as-shit one-album wonders that emo and post-hardcore circles hold up as lost legends in the years to come, given the vigour with which it hits the wave and sticks. RIP Riot Stares—we miss you already. • LN
For fans of: Turnstile, Quicksand, Higher Power
‘Sounds Of Acceleration’ by Riot Stares is released on 20th January on DAZE STYLE.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)