A couple weeks ago, one of my absolute favorite metal bands released their first album in nearly four years. Månegarm are a Swedish Viking metal band who came into this release on a streak of six excellent albums. Their 2007 record Vargstenen in particular deserves a place amongst the top handful of albums in the sub-genre's history.
With all the anticipation I felt for this record, it's perhaps understandable that it didn't quite live up to my expectations. Now don't get me wrong, this is a good album. But it lacks that "it factor" that the band usually brings to the table. The songs are entertaining, but they feel a little bit cheesy in comparison with the group's previous material, with more of an emphasis on bouncy catchiness and less of the hostile beauty I've come to expect.
One really major factor that has affected the feel of the record is the band's lamentable decision to transition from Swedish to English lyrics. Somebody in Finntroll (I forget who) once noted that Swedish sounds "damn trollish" and it's kind of true. The Nordic languages have a sound that suits this kind of music really well, and by stepping away from both their roots and that guttural harshness, the band has lost something.
The songwriting in general is somewhat culpable as well, given the aforementioned bouncy catchiness. The riffs, the tempo, and the overall feel is just more (and I hate the hipster implications of saying this) . . . commercial. I mean, it's not Korpiklaani or anything, but it feels much more geared toward accessibility than their previous work. There's nothing wrong with accessibility, unless it comes at the cost of quality, and here I think it does.
It's funny how negative this review sounds, because like I said at the start, I actually liked this album just fine. It really wasn't bad at all, and I'd have little hesitation in offering it up to fans of the genre. Comeing from a band that has maintained such a tremendous level of quality, though, it's a clear step down from the summit.