Viking-inspired Flight of Sleipnir return with career-defining fourth record ‘Saga’

There certainly are enough Norse legends to go around, and there are plenty that make up the annals of heavy metal. You can throw a rock at any metal festival, Wacken especially, and nail a band that builds its sound and philosophy on Viking/Nordic ideals and stories. It’s one of the many cool touchstones about metal, and it might even cause some of its listeners to go for books and actually read these tales.

Understandably, the bulk of the bands paying homage to Nordic tales are of Scandinavian descent. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is death metal warriors Amon Amarth, one of the catchiest bands in the entire subgenre, and one that has incorporated these tales into their music and their very colorful merchandise. The great Bathory is another huge example of a classic, revered metal band paying its respect to these roots, as are Enslaved, Moonsorrow, Kampfar, and the mighty Unleashed. Even some American bands have gotten in on the Nordic thing, with groups such as The Sword and Skeletonwitch getting in on the fun. But they’re not the only ones to do so, and they’re not even the best ones to try their hands at creating Viking-inspired thunder.

cover_24_72Also not claiming Viking territory as home, and hailing from Colorado, are Flight of Sleipnir (named after Odin’s eight-legged steed, known as the greatest of all horses), a two-man operation formed in 2008 with the explicit idea of further exploring Scandinavian legend and creating music that sounds as if it came out of a Nordic forest. Over the course of four full-length efforts together and other smaller releases, David Csicsely and Clayton Cushman, both former members of Archeronian Dirge and Throcult, also decided to play with more progressive sounds, in which they mixed into their tastes for doom and black metal, and from this union came a sound that they executed very successfully. As time has gone on, the band’s only gotten better playing together, and they really accomplished some impressive growth as they’ve gone from album to album. Their latest “Saga,” out on Eyes Like Snow, is even more proof that their machinery is growing even more effective, and it’s their most impressive record to date.

Following a 2008 demo, the band’s debut record “Algiz + Berkanan,” named after Nordic runes, was released in 2008, followed by “Winter Solstice II” EP a year later, and then their second effort “Lore” in 2010. In 2011, the band jumped to Eyes Like Snow for their excellent third album “Essence of Nine,” which showed the path that would lead the band, musically, to “Saga,” and it was sort of a hidden gem in the metal world, a powerful, emotional release that didn’t get the attention it deserved. Maybe that’ll change for the band with “Saga,” an adventure that’s truly fitting for any season or state of mind.

Naturally our “Saga” begins with “Prologue,” a track that simmers slowly and takes its time to build before giving way to a metallic explosion and growly vocals. “Reaffirmation” is full of acoustic washes, softer, folk-like vocals, proggy progressions, and warm beds of guitar work. “Reverence” is very atmospheric, as it feels like the music is moving on a sunbeam, and the rustic-style song eventually dissolves into a crackling fire. “Harrowing Desperation” brings crunch back into things, with heavier guitars, clean vocals paving the way for anguished screams, and cosmic noises that pull the song into the dark. “Heavy Rest the Chains of the Damned” has a lot of acoustic guitar, but it drives, kind of like the stuff on the last Man’s Gin album, and amid the steely, thorny goodness comes a trippy, psychedelic pocket, and a thunderstorming fury that brings the cut to a close.

“Judgment” has a true doom essence, with creaky growls, a dizzying mid-paced tempo, and some blackened edges to the guitars. “Demise Carries” is another heavy one, with some power metal punches and kicks to keep your adrenaline flowing and you merging with “The Mountain,” a cut that brings things back to the woods again, with softer vocals returning, a stirring, forest-ready spirit rising up, and winds whipping across your cheeks. “Hour of Cessation” is the  closest the band gets to its black metal roots, with killer guitar leads and a truly emotional display that lets them put their hearts on the line. “Remission” is a breath-taking instrumental built on soaring slide guitar work, and it feels like a bridge leading to the conclusion. “Beneath Red Skies” delivers that exclamation point with a crushing approach, some guitar passages that feel like old Rush, more monstrous growls, and a thunderous finish carried out by squawking wild birds. The closing “Epilogue” lets you absorb the whole story, lets the sun rise on what you just heard, and allows you to close that hard back cover with a sense of accomplishment.

Flight of Sleipnir obviously deserve more adulation and attention from metal fans, and this is as good an album as any of their on which to start if you’re new to the band. They’re excellent at blending styles and sounding as if it what comes naturally to them and not a gimmick, and their lyrical and musical storytelling is mighty and a force of nature. Luckily for those of us who have been along for their ride with this band, they’re not bound to run out of Nordic influence any time soon, meaning “Saga” is destined to be just one thrilling chapter in a larger overall story.

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