Grimner – ‘Vanadrottning’

By Gem Rogers

For what is undoubtedly quite a niche genre – they don’t exactly seem like musical styles you would naturally meld, to be fair – folk metal manages to maintain a dedicated fan base around the world, and has been steadily increasing in popularity in recent years. Essentially the musical equivalent of Lord of the Rings (in a good way), it’s no surprise that the majority of it is produced by our Nordic neighbours, and Sweden’s Grimner are no exception.

The release of ‘Vanadrottning’ marks the band’s 10th anniversary and third full length album, so they’re no strangers to the world of folk, though they are yet to attain the same status as festival main stage frequenters like Ensiferum, Turisas, or Eluveitie. It’s perhaps because they’re sonically at the more traditional end of the scale, rather than the power-metal influenced sound of the most popular folk metallers, but this shouldn’t be considered a bad thing when it comes to giving their music a try.

Kicking off with the upbeat title track, Grimner’s folk colours are instantly pinned to the mast with a rousing drum beat and big, swashbuckling riff. The band were joined in 2017 by guitarist and clean vocalist Martin Welcel, and his vocals make their first major appearance in the chorus of this track; they aren’t the best you’ll hear in folk metal but they’re good enough. It makes for a slightly more accessible, varied sound in contrast to the growling bark of Ted Sjulmark and the jaunty, fun ‘En Fallen Jätte’ is a highlight in terms of vocals.

As it goes on, the album dives between ‘enjoyable-but-not-outstanding’ and ‘singalong to this at the top of your lungs even though you have no idea what the lyrics are’ – ‘Vårt Blod, Våra Liv’ (which translates to the distinctly Viking-esque Our Blood, Our Lives) is a particular standout. All songs are in their native Swedish, but there’s no detriment to listening enjoyment as an English speaker; it feels appropriate for the Norse theme, and there’s a nice element of authenticity to it. After all, how can you feel like you’re standing victorious in the mead halls of your fathers if everyone is speaking English?! This is music that is comfortingly more about the overall sound and imagery than relatable lyrics.

A few songs suffer in patches with an overly synthy-sounding keyboard, particularly ‘Kvällningssång’. Although half the point of folk is blending traditional instruments with modern, in this case it’s a little jarring and far inferior to Johan Rydberg’s enchanting flute melodies. The slower ‘Sången om Grimner’ isn’t especially an inspiring finish to the album either, and at six minutes it’s a bit of a slog.

There’s nothing groundbreaking or overly exciting to be found on ‘Vanadrottning’, but there doesn’t need to be. Despite having a few forgettable (and occasionally skippable) tracks, when at its best this album is a cohesive blend of traditional instruments and thundering guitar riffs that are exactly what folk metal can and should be; heavy, entertaining, and best accompanied by a large stein of something deeply alcoholic.

GEMMA ROGERS

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