Over a career spanning twenty-six years and counting, Sweden’s Pagan Metal minions Thyrfing were one of the earliest bands to take the ‘Viking’ era of Bathory and run with it. Now out on August 27, 2021, via Despotz Records, comes Vanagandr, their ninth studio album and first full-length since 2013.
Along with such bands as Moonsorrow, Falkenbach, Månegarm, and Ereb Altor, Thyrfing managed to avoid getting caught up in the Folk Metal boom of the 2000s. And though this may have cost them a shot at the popularity enjoyed by some of their more ebullient, dance-around-the-campfire styled cousins, the creative core of Patrik Lindgren (guitars) and Joakim Kristensson (bass guitar) has always chosen to remain on the more epic and traditional side of the Pagan/Viking theater of Heavy Metal music. On Vanagandr, this does not change.
Joined on vocals by Jens Rydén, the long-time veteran of Swedish Black Metal stars Naglfar, there is no question that such a darker shade of expression is remaining in full effect. This is not to say that bouncy rhythms and keyboards are excluded. “Rotter” is a good example, with some clean vocals accompanying Rydén’s necro vocal shred. “Undergangens lankar” builds from its intro like a tale unfolding, which to fans of this sort of metal will feel familiar and even elegant. “Hag och minne” rustles up some martial atmospheres with a mixture of clean vocal harmonies and slower marching pace. Album closer “Jordafard” achieves soundtrack-like levels of grandeur with its orchestral feel and an atmosphere of the commencement of a band of adventurers in a foreign land. Thyrfing understands these dynamics and delivers a highly competent, compelling album that presents a solid listen without any real peaks or valleys. Velocity is not the aim, as each song pretty much remains in the mid-tempo range.
When compared to the latest output by stylistic cousins Einherjer and Ereb Altor, Thyrfing omits dalliances with traditional metal and speed metal exemplified by the former, as well as the vocal variation present in the latter. Despite the aforementioned clean vocals, the production mix keeps those in the background when they might have benefited from being more up-front. And while Rydén is a superb vocalist in his own right, the result here is just a tad flat. Paging Tomas Väänänen, who manned the mic from inception until 2005; his berserk lungs would have bolstered this effort considerably.
Gripes aside, Thyrfing is a high-quality band who makes high-quality music, and they possess a back catalogue nearly unrivalled in the genre. Vanagandr may not be the most scintillating album they ever produced, but it possesses a great deal of good melodies, bracing arrangements, and obvious passion. If the blueprint of Bathory after Quorthon pivoted from Satan to Odin appeals, fans will enjoy spinning this record for years to come. That is why CrypticRock gives Vanagandr 3.5 out of 5 stars.