Last year saw the debut release by Valtyr. This one-man Viking metal project comes from Italy, not exactly a prominent country in the world of Viking/pagan/folk metal. Regardless of their origin, however, this band's sound is closer to the roots of Viking metal than that of most new bands in that genre coming out of northern Europe. The tracks are generally fairly long and moderately paced, with reasonably economical use of backing atmospheric instruments and sound effects. Sole member Saverio Giove relies primarily on his guitar riffs to set the musical tone, though there are a couple songs where the keyboards emerge from the background. This works well in conjunction with chanted background vocals that sound like they could have come straight out of tracks from Windir's "Arntor". The production is just right, with enough rough edges to give the music character but enough clarity to be easily listenable. There are a few pace shifts, like the first half of the faster and more aggressive "Fallen in Blood". Fast or slow, though, the music definitely evokes cold, hostile, northern feelings and imagery. Most importantly (for me), the glossy and commercialized aesthetic so common in the modern surge of V/P/F metal (as highlighted by bands like Korpiklaani) is absent here. Don't get me wrong, I can enjoy those bands too, but there's a feeling of purity that was present on albums by Viking metal greats like Bathory and Windir that has been mostly lost in recent years. Valtyr, for me, has that same pure feeling.
As for Giove, he also appeared this year as a member of Vinterblot, and his solo black metal project Ymir has a couple releases as well. This is not his only effort in this general field. All of his recorded work has occurred in the past few years, however, rendering him as one of the most interesting new figures in this scene typically dominated by Germans, Finns, and Scandinavians.
Ultimately, I am very excited by this record. If I had heard this 2 months ago, it would easily have made my top 10 list for 2011. More importantly, it gives me a new band to watch closely. If they fulfill their promise and build on what they've already done, I believe Valtyr may be the next decade's best candidate to pick up the crown of pure Viking metal from the fallen giants Quorthon and Valfar and carry it forward into the future.
The overall sound of this album is fantastic. And the FEEL is even better.
p.s. I know that's 2 "A" grades in a row. That's because I haven't written reviews recently unless I really felt like the album was something special.