Skálmöld are currently riding high on the release of their excellent third studio album Með vættum but what about where it all started in 2010 with their debut offering Baldur? Our editor is a bit of a nutter and is currently travelling the UK to see them perform four times in total this week, so what better excuse than to cover their debut release in honour of this?
Baldur tells the story of Baldur, a typical Icelandic farmer whose family gets killed by Hel’s army and he goes on a quest to avenge them, with the listener following him on his journey. There is grief, hardships and setbacks, but also triumph and victory as he successfully completes his mission before he dies and goes to Valhalla.
The introduction is simple yet effective; it begins with powerful a cappella vocals from Gunnar Ben before he’s backed up by a children’s choir and then an adult choir. It’s really striking and sets the scene perfectly before leads seamlessly into opener Aras, where the full band kicks in. It’s almost like an explosion of energy, and hearing the choral vocals atop of the heavy and chunky instrumentation gives the track even more power and momentum, especially when taking into consideration that this is the song that tells the tale of the initial attack – indeed, Aras translates to ‘Attack’ in English.
One of the best songs is quite simply Kvaðning, a song that is a staple of their live set and will no-doubt remain there for years to come. It’s clear why, since this is a track made for a live environment with the crowd shouting and singing back, and there’s also plenty of epic instrumental sections to either bang your head to, pump your fist in air to, or simply clap along with. This song details Baldur’s final leg of his journey as he nears Hel and gets closer to his goal of avenging his family – incredible stuff.
The original closer of the album, Valhöll is a triumphant way to wind up the story of Baldur as he has proven himself as a hero and arrives in Valhalla after he dies. It has one of those vocal lines destined to be stuck in your head for hours after you’ve first heard it. Quite simply, it’s a track that deserves nothing less than to be listened to at top volume from start to finish.
The band released this album initially in 2010 via Tutl, before rereleasing it in 2011 after signing to Napalm, and the Napalm reissue featured a bonus track entitled Baldur, which sees Baldur revisiting his journey and remembering what happened, but you wouldn’t have guessed that it was a “late” addition to the release because it fits perfectly into the whole thing.
Since releasing this album, Skálmöld have gone on to great things, which have included releasing two more incredible albums to critical acclaim and have even performed special shows in their home country of Iceland with a full orchestra! The humble beginnings of this debut album of theirs shows real potential – and you can tell from each song on Baldur that this is a band capable of achieving great things.
Special thanks to Pálmi for taking the time to share the story of Baldur (as well as Börn Loka and Með Vættum!) with me – you helped with this review more than you could imagine.