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19 Nov 2010

Review: Asa (Voluspaa)

Voluspaa - AsaVoluspaa
Asa
Aurora Australis Records, 2010

Voluspaa was born in Norway in the mid 1990’s black metal scene, but despite having been around for a while, Asa is their debut full length release. The wait was worth it: Voluspaa mastermind Freddy Skogstad has done a brilliant job orchestrating these epic, atmospheric, and evocative songs into a beautiful collection of folk-infused black metal (and at times…the reverse).

Built on a framework of driving black metal guitars, and with a mixture of soaring clean and scything extreme vocals, Asa presents songs that are catchy, melodic, and just plain heavy all at once. Each track features plenty of memorable themes, and there is always some little detail in the arrangements – a flash of piano here, an aching violin there – to breathe that extra layer of depth into the music.

Indeed, this is much more than a black metal album or a folk metal album. The acoustic/folk forays are truly heartfelt, immersing us in mist-covered Norse forests and icy seas; the heavy passages keep us on edge, gathering momentum and unleashing volleys of impassioned riffage.

And of course, Voluspaa draw together these two seemingly opposed influences into a whole that is truly seamless. Very few albums can segue from headbanging intensity into dreamy spaciousness so quickly yet so convincingly. As a composer and band leader Skogstad has really refined his craft.

Special mention needs to go to the afore-noted clean vocals. Not only does Skogstad have a voice that moves from boisterousness to subtle pathos with ease, but with Myrkgrav’s Lars Jensen and a chorus of talented female singers in support the vocal melodies and harmonies really shine.

Each track is a little bit of a rollercoaster, and this is something that Voluspaa excel at: dynamics and dramatics. The songs are immediately accessible, yet reward repeated listens as well. There is a strong creative flair, and at times even a playfulness that sets off the focussed seriousness of the music very elegantly.

As such Asa might just be the perfect place for folk music lovers to begin their odyssey into metal, and vice versa. Either way, it holds its own as an exquisite musical outing, both uplifting and extreme.

This band is clearly very passionate about both music and the ancient roots of Norway, and their sincerity translates powerfully on this release. A very welcome antidote to the many shallow “Viking metal” or “folk metal” trend bands popping up these days. Let’s all hope that Voluspaa’s next effort comes a little sooner!

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