A short while ago, a relatively knowledgeable friend of mine remarked that Windir were a band he considered to be clownish and essentially power metal with black metal style vocals.
Like many of us, when we hear one of our favourites dissed, I tend to take it rather personally, and aside from a surly, sour-pussed response, it did get me thinking.
I decided to give them a proper and long overdue seeing to, and I listened to all four Windir albums over the course of a couple of days, and see if those records still had the capacity to draw blood the way they did when I first discovered them many years ago.
The stand out, personal favourite and most charming of all four was, of course, the spectacular Arntor, and after a joyous reintroduction, I was prompted to write this article, for the benefit for those who may have lost visual with this album, and for those who haven´t yet had the pleasure.
Terje Did It His Way
Arntor is the second studio album from Windir, and the last where vaunted and cherished frontman Terje ‘Valfar’ Bakken did it all himself, with the exception of the percussion, provided by future full time member Steingrim.
It was also the last time Windir’s music would be commited to wax in their Sogndal dialect of Norwegian, switching to English for subsequent albums for the universal purpose of mass appeal.
Although Windir would evolve into a four piece, and get heavier (Likferd) and more polished and refined (1184), it is this effort which captures the mirth and passion of Valfar’s character, and an aural storyboard of his homeland and an ancient prophetic warrior.
Armed with guitars and keys high in the mix, and Valfar’s shrieked, rancorous vocals, Arntor tells the story of the ubiquitous hero through a frenzied, melodic gallop through these seven tracks.
Sogndal Of Ice And Fire
This record is essentially built around the two epic tracks, ‘Svartesmeden og lundamyrstrollet’ and ´Saknet’, lengthy compositions which never outstay their welcome as riff after mesmerizing riff shadow the wretched harpy vocals of the main man, which give the melodic, folk tinged music a ferocious sharpness.
The record only slows down during the mid-section through ´Kampen’, and in its last moments with Ending, allowing us a brief moment with rare clean sung moments, delivered in what can only assume is a folk style specific to the Sogndal, charming and unique in equal measure.
What one notices early on in a journey to the end of this record, is that in spite of its frosty, high pitched façade, there is a lot of enjoyment being had by Valfar, and one gets the impression that he doesn’t take grimness or what have you as seriously as perhaps some of his contemporaries do. It´s hard to put a finger on why exactly.
This is nothing like the sneering, churlish cynicism of bands like Nachtmystium, nor is it intellectualizing and tiresome hipster bleating like Liturgy’s take on the genre, rather something more organic, woven into the music.
There are upbeat melodic snaps, brief but smirk inducing accordion passages and despite the rather serious mythological lyrical content, not an overabundance of po-faced BM dogmatism and it endears the listener almost as much as the incredible quality of the music.
In terms of the balance of the tunes, the only chink in the armour is the slightly plodding Kong Hydnes Haug’, while not a poor track (and containing some fantastic clean sung moments) seems to lack the bite of the riffing of the tracks surrounding it, to the extent that it rather gets smothered and is not as instantly recognisable or chill inducing as the others.
The title-ish track, Arntor Ein Windir reminds me of the first Borknagar album, hounding headlong along with boundless blast beat enthusiasm, leading to a bone crunching, ultra- catchy breakdown, featuring the now infamous ‘yee-haa’s’ from Valfar, which I adore entirely, although they won’t be for everyone.
This album is an epic, filled with the unharnessed energy of a very youthful folk and metal enthusiast, who we should remember was a mere 20 years old by the time this album was released, so the arrangements and colossal beauty of this record, conceived much earlier, the fruits of a teenager, who were he alive today would still be only in his mid-thirties.
The manner of his untimely death is of course the stuff of metal lore, but he should be more regarded as the creator and executioner of this quite extraordinary album.
If you haven’t heard it, regardless of instinctive baulking at the words ‘accordian’ and ‘folky’, I cannot express how superb this record is. If you have, get another dose into you right and quick.
– Kevin Jacob ::: 23/2/15