Windir - Arntor (1999)Release ID: 1429
Any warrior can make a journey through fields, forests, and mountains. Embarking on adventurous treks is a warrior's most essential objective besides combat. And it comes with the privileges of visiting villages, dining in taverns, and rescue those in need of help. However, the farther north you go, the deadlier it becomes. In extreme conditions, a storm would come to wipe you out. That was the sad unfortunate fate of Windir founder Valfar, his life taken in a blizzard during a trek to his family cabin in his homeland of Norway. RIP... This fact also warned me about how I should stop my melodic black metal exploration. I know how dangerous The North is for me, but I won't die, I just don't want to get highly committed to a genre still out of bounds from my moral comfort. But that's not to say I have anything against this Windir album...
See, Windir isn't a band that can be considered just black metal. This is epic melodic/symphonic black metal with colorful leads and mythological lyrics. All that and the genre's usual vocal screams and blast-beats make this sound a unique combo. Valfar was one of the more talented members of the Norwegian black metal scene. He could do everything except drums and clean vocals, which two other band members have done for him. He had an idea to make a black metal band that didn't follow the usual the genre's stereotypes, and he succeeded! There's powerful melodic riffing without sounding too cheesy, and the vocals are less aggressive while staying sinister.
You already know the incoming epicness straight from the 3-minute intro "Byrjing" (Beginning). After that, "Arntor, Ein Windir" (Arntor, A Warrior) blasts off as a flawless classic in the melodic black metal realm. Then "Kong Hydnes Haug" (The Burial Mound of King Hydnes), which is pretty great. While not as much of a gem in the crown as the previous track, there's still some solid black metal right there.
"Svartesmeden Og Lundamyrstrollet" (The Blacksmith and the Troll of Lundamyri), throughout it's 9-minute length, has only a few separate riffs under guitar leads and can still come out as one of the best songs I've heard in the genre. "Kampen" (The Struggle) isn't too struggling, but not very appealing either.
The 10-minute epic "Saknet" (The Longing) continues the technique of alternating between only a few riffs throughout the track. The instruments make the most change, taking turns playing each riff, whether adding more or less heaviness or harmony. That's the epic effect more black metal bands should have! "Ending" is a great way to go out, but it could've been better when closing a near-perfect classic of an album.
All in all, this atmospheric emotion, mythological lyrics, and melodic power are what make this album stand out in Norwegian black metal. It's much different from the more satanic bands of the scene. An excellent unique journey!
Favorites: "Arntor, Ein Windir", "Svartesmeden Og Lundamyrstrollet", "Saknet"
Ah, this is my kind of music. I love the more folksy side of black metal. Or should I say, I still prefer my music folk and traditional then I do music considered black. Giving a black metal edge to my black metal is perfectly acceptable, and here is done really well in Windir. This is more than just an atmosphere album, there's a story they're telling and though I don't quite understand the lyrics I can tell it's a story of their ancestors or at least the folk lore stories of their region probably into Viking lore with even slight leanings into Viking metal. With most black metal I get a vibe of cold, depression, sadness, some anger, and other similar feelings. While this album has all that, there is an underlying story here instead of vague poetry sung with an emotional attachment this has generations of history put into this with their traditions to be spread and praised. Gives me more of an appreciation when listening and enjoyment. Something I will go back to, and experience again and again. Not the best album I have heard but absolutely one of the best, maybe a bit too much on the black metal side of things that in my biased opinion kept the true traditions fully coming through and realized but I can't really fault it as it still is better than almost anything in a similar aspect.
The melodic black/folk/viking metal of Windir is perhaps an acquired taste. With the late Valfar doing nearly everything on Arntor (barring the drums) including the production and mixing job the album throws up traditional instrumentation such as guitars and keyboards as well as the more folky (or eclectic depending on your viewpoint) accordion for good measure.
To these ears, all the pieces do fit together, to a point at least. The album celebrates well the historical and mythical aspects of the band's subject matter, embedding well the catchy alongside the more medieval/traditional sounds whilst giving enough space to the more melodic end of the black metal spectrum. In terms of pace the album has a fair share of variety, adopting a range of always structured tempos that hold the attention well. The focus is still heavily on the more folk/viking tinged aspect of the sound however and this will please fans of the sub-genre muchly.
You can't ignore the quality of the musicianship on show here with some superb lead work and racing riffage to boot that showcase Valfar's (and some then guest musicians who of course came to be full time band members from the next opus onwards) talent and panache. The tracks feel well arranged in terms of their individual structure as well as their place in the album as a whole and the album has a real sense of flow.
It is a bit samey though and as such some tracks don't stand up on their own. Some of this is due to the barrage of styles deployed and some of it due to a peddling of the same ideas that have already been explored on the record earlier. It was still a step up from their debut however. The band really hit their stride on 1184 in my opinion and given that record was still some two years away at the point of this release this was still a strong sophomore.