Monday Morning Metal Report: Featuring Månegarm, Noriega, and Viatrophy

Well alright . . . this is my first post of the New Year and it seems somewhat fitting that it’s gonna’ be all about my favorite form of music. Seriously . . . what better way to start off the week, let alone the year, than to have ones ears sheared off by the metallic sounds of death, destruction, and the sinister laugh of the Dark One himself? This particular episode features three bands from all over the globe who are showing us that there are multiple levels on which a band can be brutal, beautiful, and create mayhem with a series of inter-related notes. The ideas aren’t all that new, so you Old Dogs can go back to gnawing on your bones, but the execution of said ideas are well done and compelling. Shotgun that Monster drink (ach!) or a 20 ounce cup of espresso, strap yourselves into your comfy chair, and enjoy some blistering sounds that we’ve stumbled on for 2010.

Månegarm – Nattväsen

Described as pagan/folk metal, this Swedish outfit should have been in my year end top ten. There’s just something about music that combines explosive metallic moments with beautifully uplifting melodies that gets me air drumming and singing at no one in particular. Månegarm quite simply took me to the frosted hills of their homeland, planted me in a rustic, dimly lit tavern, placed a plate of fire roasted mutton on the table and poured me a tankard of ale, and then proceeded to regale me with tales of shadows, and creatures of the night, and wisdom of the ancient ones, and mountains, and Viking ships doing battle with sea storms, and . . . my God, this is awesome! By the time I got through listening to Nattväsen, I felt like I had my arms draped over the shoulders of burly and very hairy men garbed in animal skins, all in celebration of our grand heritage.

If you’re not singing along with the melodic vocal intro to “Mina Faders Hall,” well . . . you’re just dead inside. The sing-along intro quickly disappears and an explosion of guttural vocals and tight guitars power the opening track in rip roaring fashion. Partially black metal, partially power metal, Månegarm do a fantastic job of taking this listener out of his self and catapulting him to a land that time forgot. The guitar work is well executed between the heavy power riffs and the soaring guitar solos, the drums are up tempo, bordering on speed metal, and the vocals are a well balanced affair of violence and serenity. What I also appreciate from this song is the nifty little pieces of nuance that they throw into the song . . . a quick break here, a cymbal strike there . . . little things that add to the dynamics. “Nattsjall-Dromsjal” picks up where the first song left off. Up tempo thrashing riffs that shift to a great quasi- Celtic melodic chorus powered by what sounds like a violin. Once the song breaks near the mid-point, it becomes more readily apparent that this violin sound is actually an effect laden guitar. This song goes from a tavern sing-along to a massive battle waged on muddy soil within seconds as the break takes on a more ominous and thrashing sound.

While the whole album takes the listener on a fantastic voyage shifting between folk-y melodies and dark metal tones, it’s almost as if Månegarm saved the best until last. “Delling,” though still combining all of the elements of the album thus far, is driven by acoustic guitars and takes on more of the folk qualities. Accented by violins and swirling background sounds, this song actually reminds me a bit of Simon & Garfunkel and “Scarborough Fair,” just heavier and more dynamic. A song about hope for a new day, “Delling” is sung completely in Swedish and is one of those songs that touches the emotions. I feel a tightness in my chest every time I hear the melody to this one and it just goes to show the universal power of music. You don’t necessarily need to know what they’re singing about for the emotional power of the music to work its magic. Let the music take hold of your imagination and create the story for yourselves.


Noriega – Desolo

Los Angeles based Noriega simply aren’t afraid to bludgeon your ears into bloodied stubs. Desolo is a piece of hardcore fused metal that feels as angry as it sounds. What I found most interesting about this EP, though, was the bands approach to creating space within the dense walls of aggressive bombast and adding a sense of musicality to the sheer brutality. To say that these guys are reinventing the wheel would be a stretch, but let’s listen in a bit before we stamp Noriega as a one trick pony. Amidst the angst ridden flurries and vocal tantrums, the music breaks long enough for us to breathe and the band to slide in odd elements of jazz and off-time progression. So, once I picked up on this, the complexion of Desolo completely changed. You’re gonna’ yell at me until I’m coated in a fine spray of spittle? Fine. Just do it with a little class so that I can take you serious. Noriega could be the poster child for just such an approach.

Check out “Bernard” and how these guys have found that almost perfect formula of mixing a sonic beat down with huge movements of musicality. The off time start/stops that work in contrasts with the droning distorted frenzy remind me of Voivod doing a tango with Hatebreed while Henry Rollins is impatiently waiting, tatted arms crossed and scorn on his face, trying to add his own flavor to the movement. It’s an awesome song in that regard, but as the song seems to blend into “Detriment,” one begins to realize that what started off as a tango has suddenly erupted into a full-fledged bar fight and someone forgot to invite Burt Reynolds. The textures that Noriega use enhances the song in ways that only well executed textures can. A straight up sonic walloping would have be fine for those hardcore kids who are one dimensional and are angry for all the wrong reasons. Noriega sound angry because they actually care and that, my friends, is power. I go back to Rollins on this track. “Detriment” has that raw, scab pulled off a fresh wound kind of feel to it. But there’s an element of sensitivity, and I don’t mean the pretty flowers or cuddly kitten kind of sensitivity. This is the kind of sensitivity that makes breathing painful . . . the kind of sensitivity that makes every waking moment the ultimate challenge in tolerance towards the weak. “Life By Myself?” Forget about it. Pick up the EP and listen to it for yourself. Talk about pain! Sheeesh!

Viatrophy – Viatrophy

Candlelight Records seems to keep finding the most compelling and interesting acts in the metal world. Viatrophy are a British death metal outfit that I’ve found much more palatable than a lot of the like-minded bands within the UK scene. Reason being . . . they change things up. I’m not being senselessly beaten into a puddle of jelly for the entire album. Viatrophy bring in elements of serenity, as noted in the opening track, ”Lux Et Tenebris,” before they unleash a world of hurt. But even within the blast beat melee, the band changes things up enough to keep the whole experience interesting. It always comes back to the dynamics, folks. Ultimately, it was the musicality of this outfit that won me over.

“Mistress of Misery,” brutal as brutal can possibly get, shows how Viatrophy mix in great elements of musicality by changing up the tempo and using some off time signatures. The vocals would certainly drain most people of life, but I’m good with it. Guttural vocals mixed with a more angst ridden voice work extremely well together, and all while the music shifts from a detuned and distorted scrum. Check out “Seas of Storms” and hear how these guys work in a nice quiet portion in the middle of the chaotic frenzy. That’s what I’m talking about! This song shows a perfect use of dynamics and an element that keeps things interesting. And then, as the song keeps rolling to completion, the vocals become more and more manic all while a creepy guitar melody swells in the background. Excellent!

“Scenes of Extended Peril” is the outstanding track from this disc, purely because Viatrophy refuse to stay boxed in a realm of standard sounds, time signatures, and ideas. Opening with a massive volley of drums and odd rhythms, the band throws itself into a thrashing pit of violence, providing just enough space in the chaos for us to catch our collective breaths before bursting into a sonically, though technically compelling passage. Then, with one guitar riffing away in the right speaker, joined shortly after by the second guitar in the left, Viatrophy pummel us with an awesome off time groove that slowly evaporates into an atmospheric, uplifting jazzy piece. Where the hell did that come from? Pay close attention to the rhythm section as they tap into some bizarre place for inspiration and execute a breath taking little jam. That, my friends, is what gets my blood pumping on a Monday morning! I don’t need coffee today . . . I have Viatrophy!

Pope JTE