First things first – it goes without saying that I’m a big Skálmöld fan. Ever since stumbling across them in 2011, I’ve become enthralled with their stunning music, top-notch live performances and all-round fantastic attitude, so when it was first announced that they would be returning to the UK this November, I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to attend, despite the fact they’d only be the opening act for Eluveitie.
Having seen them twice on their last run of UK shows with Finntroll and Týr, I decided that even wouldn’t be enough this time round, so not wanting to do things by halves I booked to see them at all their ‘mainland’ UK dates – London, Manchester, Glasgow and Bristol.
I wanted to do this properly, so I kept a diary of the four days to document the events for Soundscape!
Day 1: November 11 – O2 Islington Academy, London
After a long walk to Abergele & Pensarn train station in the rain, I caught my train in a fairly bedraggled and windswept state but I didn’t let this dampen my enthusiasm and spent the journey listening to Skálmöld’s back catalogue in readiness for the show, before getting caught in the rain for a second time upon leaving Euston station! However, the rain finally let off as I took the short walk from my hotel to the O2 Academy in Islington and it was time for the adventure to begin!
As soon as Skálmöld took to the stage for the first of my four shows, I instantly knew it was going to be a special show – and it was. Although I was a good way back from the front, it felt like they were involving absolutely everyone in the room – this is a band that consistently doesn’t let you down when it comes to live shows. Even if you don’t like their music (although I find that hard to believe!) it’s impossible not to enjoy them all the same because not only do they always look like they’re having an absolute blast onstage, they always sound tremendously tight and together – so you really do get the best of both worlds.
Skálmöld is a band that interacts together perfectly, sharing smiles, looks and jokes with one another in front of the crowd, and a real high point of the set was seeing how happy they all looked when the crowd began singing back the melody of Kvaðning without even being prompted! The great response they got in London was absolutely wonderful and very much deserved.
Arkona, on the other hand, at first felt like a bit of a comedown after the mightiness of Skálmöld and admittedly they took a few shows to grow on me. Their music all seemed a bit samey and nobody in the band looked all that happy to be there – whether that was down to the slight language barrier or another issue remained to be seen.
Things did pick up with Eluveitie – in my Skálmöld-related excitement, I’d actually forgotten what a good band Eluveitie was, and it was a lot of fun to see them blast through a set full of songs from their new album Origins – which certainly wasn’t a bad thing as it is a great album! The new songs packed a punch live, however a few tracks in the set did sound a little odd without bagpipes – their bagpipe player Päde had left the tour the day before – but it was a good all-round performance and a great beginning to the four-day run.
Day 2: November 12 – Sound Control, Manchester
One walk in the rain followed by another delayed train, I arrived in Manchester safe and sound but there was not much time to take in my surroundings – with an early set time for Skálmöld, I had to get my skates on to ensure I wouldn’t miss anything!
After a few technical difficulties with Baldur’s guitar cutting out as he began playing the opening chords of Árás, causing a few laughs onstage as members exchanged looks with one another, Skálmöld didn’t let this mar their performance and got the night going with another tremendous performance. Admittedly this one was my least favourite of the four shows, which was largely down to the omission of Með Fuglum from the set, and the fact that the crowd didn’t get as involved as London did for Kvaðning, but that’s only a minor nuance in the grand scheme of things and they were still wonderful regardless.
Not wanting to judge Arkona on one performance, I gave them another chance in Manchester and whilst they still weren’t quite my thing, they were certainly more enjoyable than they were in London and everything felt a bit more interesting, which was great to see.
Like Skálmöld, Eluveitie were also better in London because the crowd just seemed so much more into the bands there than in Manchester, which was quite a shame. It wasn’t like the crowd just stood still and clapped politely, but London was definitely a bit more enthusiastic. However, London didn’t get to see Eluveitie wind up their set with the incredible TEGERNAKÔ, which indeed was a great change from the usual Inis Mona – in fact, Manchester was the only show of the four where they played that song, which was an honour to see live.
Leaving the show with a smile on my face, I was officially halfway through the trip and already loving it – and up next was the Glasgow date, and my first ever trip to Scotland!
Day 3: November 13 – The Classic Grand, Glasgow
Delays! Delays! And more delays! This is becoming a running theme of this trip – can train companies ever run their services on time? However, I eventually made it up to Glasgow and after a bite to eat at a brilliant bar called the Toby Jug (seriously – the food there is amazing!) it was onwards to Classic Grand for show number three.
Of course, Skálmöld were as great as ever, and at this show I grinned from start to finish, which is surely testament to a good show! When a band looks as happy as they do, it’s difficult not to smile along with them. Með Fuglum was back in the set, and their other new song Að Hausti packed a tremendous punch – live, these two songs were on a whole new level. At three shows in, I wasn’t even beginning to get tired of seeing them because each time they brought something new to their performance.
Something I’ve really enjoyed about these shows was how the bands have been positioned onstage. Due to Eluveitie’s stage setup, it’s meant that the drummers are down on the main stage area with the rest of the band and it has definitely been fun seeing Jón being even more involved with the band, and Skálmöld have somehow felt like even more of a unit – which was certainly no mean feat.
After this, I stepped out for a while to have a chat with Björgvin and Þráinn at the merch, and after revealing to the pair that I was actually the person who wrote the first review of their new album Með Vættum that they shared on their facebook page, they were so humbled and thankful towards me about what I said about it, and really made me feel good about what I’d written. It was such a great experience to actually discuss my review ahead of my interview with the band at the Bristol date – but of course, more on that later!
Although I missed the start of Arkona’s set this time round, what I did catch was great and the band have really been growing on me! Closer Yarilo is such an enjoyable number, to say the least.
Eluveitie also played their best performance musically of the three days, especially because of how welcoming and enthusiastic the crowd was, but as the tour has progressed, the more impersonal their performances have begun to feel. When they speak to the crowd, Chrigel and Anna say the exact same memorised speeches and it’s disappointing to hear the same apparently heartfelt words each time – they’re less meaningful every time I hear them and it really wouldn’t take much effort to interact with the crowd on a more personal basis.
Whinges aside, after this show, it was off home for me for some much-needed rest and relaxation before the final show in Bristol! Let’s do this!
Day 4: November 16 – The Bierkeller, Bristol
It’s always nice when a plan comes together and after a completely stress-free journey to Bristol where no trains got delayed and I wasn’t surrounded by crying children (seriously…when on public transport I attract brats like the plague!) I arrived in plenty of time to Bristol for my interview with the heroes of the tour themselves – Skálmöld.
Whilst I don’t intend on giving too much away, as you’ll have to wait to see it online, the interview with Jón and Björgvin features some great insights into their new album as well as their recent live DVD, and also features tales of getting lost in London wearing only some pyjamas, a certain drummer trying to hijack the bus and even hybrid creations of dragons and sheep!
We found out during the interview that the bands’ original ferry got cancelled and they arrived at the venue fairly late, so it was of no surprise that the door time was pushed back but thankfully the set duration of Skálmöld didn’t suffer. Although there was a few technical issues with the drums at the start, somewhat highlighting the fact they didn’t get the opportunity to have a soundcheck, Þráinn kept the crowd amused by playing silly guitar solos whilst everything got rectified, and then it was back to business with the rest of their set.
Quite simply, it was as powerful as ever and although the sets have remained the same each night, each performance brought something different to the table and each one has been just as infectiously fun as the last. Sometimes it can get a bit dull seeing the same band multiple times in a row but this has certainly not been the case with Skálmöld and it has been an absolute privilege to have seen this utterly talented band play four top-notch shows over the course of the week.
Arkona got better again, even despite them having a few technical issues like Skálmöld, and although Eluveitie once again said the same tired old speels to the crowd, they were great too.
As Eluvetie’s bagpipe player was still absent, for their closer Inis Mona they enlisted the help of Arkona’s bagpipe/whistle player Vladimir and it was incredible to say the least – and he even contributed by playing his whistle at the end too! It was quite simply, the best way to finish the final show of my little adventure.[/caption]
This has been an unforgettable experience and even though this hasn’t been a review as such, it seems fitting to declare that Skálmöld deserve nothing less than a 10/10 for everything – from the shows, to the chats I’ve had with them, the incredible interview and also the friends I’ve made along the way who I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for them (including a lovely couple from Iceland who travelled over to see them), this has been a magical week. Thank you Skálmöld, from the bottom of my heart!
Read our review of Með vættum here and stay tuned for the interview coming soon! Also if you’re unlucky enough to be friends with our editor on facebook, you can see her full album of photos from the week here!