What is Viking Metal? I’m sure to some of you the idea of Viking metal will invoke images of Ragnar Lothbrook shredding on a Fender Strat. Maybe history was wrong and Lindisfarne in 793 was just the first ever international music festival; and maybe the Vikings were just a huge metal band that were headlining. An interesting although very unlikely thought!
Here at Metalpunkz, we are going to look at Viking Metal and what it is.
“Vikings”, the name given to the pagans of Scandinavia. The Vikings were traders, although they were also ferocious warriors that raided parts of Northern Europe and North Africa (Circa 700 – 1100). Scandinavia was a rural place with towns few and far between with most of the land was used for farming. There are conflicting theories as to why the Vikings initially began their raids. Some point to political instability in the area, with local chieftains battling for dominance; other theories suggest that they became aware of riches in the west from merchants that passed by.
The Vikings were a seafaring people with extremely talented boat builders and navigators. The Vikings constructed longboats that were able to cross the vast oceans but also able to navigate inland rivers and waters. Vikings (Pagans, Northmen or Danes) as they were known at the time raided and conquered Northern England until their domination ended in 1066. British history denotes the Viking’s as a fierce warrior people that were barbaric due to their paganist beliefs.
Odin – Odin is the allfather, the supreme deity in the Nordic culture. The God Odin, the immortal ruler of Asgard with an unrelenting thirst for knowledge is the most revered of all gods. Odin is the god of war but surprisingly also the god of magic and poetry.
Frigg – Odin’s wife and queen of Asgard. Frigg is known as the goddess of fertility, love, beauty and fate.
Thor – Probably the most famous of the gods and the revered god of Thunder. Thor wields his hammer mjollnir and is also known as the protector of humanity.
Loki – Loki, the god of mishief and the one responsible for his brother balder’s death. Loki is able to shape-shift and take animalistic forms.
Balder – The brother of Loki. Loki’s brother Balder was the the god of kindness and fairness. Balder was believed to be immortal but was killed with mistletoe after Loki tricked Hod into throwing it at him.
Freya – Freya is the Sister of Freyr and embodies much of the same traits as Frigg. Freya was also known for beauty, fertility and love.
Freyr – Freyr is a well-respected god and the god of male fertility that is often shown to have a huge phallus. Freyr is also a symbol of prosperity and nice weather.
Heimdall – The keeper of the rainbow bridge which connects Asgard to Midgard (Asgard being the world of the gods and Midgard being the world of humanity). Heimdall is known as being the shiniest of the gods, this is because he is known to be extremely white.
Hel – Hel is the goddess of the underworld and appears deathlike although she houses and nurtures any who enter the realm. (Hel is also the name of the realm that she rules).
Vidar – Vidar is the Son of the Giantess Grid and the supreme god. He is extremely powerful and his power is matched only by Thor.
Vale – Vale is Odin’s son that avenged his brother Balder’s death by killing the blind Hod that had been tricked by Loki.
Viking Metal is known for its heavy riffs and use of Nordic Folk music consisting of songs about Norse mythology. The lyrics can be sung but are often harsh although tracks can often have an anthemic chorus. Viking imagery is also a large part of Viking Metal with the music video’s and stage costumes also heavily influenced. Viking Metal is also known for using Folk instruments along with a keyboard to add that authentic sound and create atmosphere within the music.
The creation of Viking Metal is credited to the Swedish band formed in 1983 named Bathory. (Elizabeth Bathory; whom the band was named after; is considered the world’s worst ever female serial killer. Elizabeth was a Hungarian noblewoman and is reported to have killed at least 650 people (Guinness world record). There are reports that this prolific Hungarian serial killer would bathe in the blood of her victims; and there have been stories written that compare her to Vlad the Impaler and she has been nicknamed Countess Dracula).
Bathory are highly regarded and were instrumental in forming what is known as Scandinavian Black Metal. They note their inspiration in the early years to be bands such as Black Sabbath, Motorhead and GBH. The lyrics on Bathory’s first 3 Album’s are dark, anti-christan and Satanic which became the way to define Black Metal. The bands lead Quorthon insisted that the band used their black metal as an attack on Christianity although many believe Bathory were in fact true Satanists. Following their 3rd Album “Under the sign of the black mark”, Bathory released “Blood Fire Death”. Blood Fire Death was a transitional Album for the band. Although it followed a very similar style to the previous 3 albums; it introduced what critic Eduardo Rivadavia called “possibly the first true example” of Viking metal.
After Blood Fire Death introduced lyrics about Norse mythology, Bathory released Hammerhead. Hammerhead defined Viking Metal and is considered the blueprint for all Viking Metal that followed. Bathory followed up Hammerhead with 5 more Viking Metal Albums although, in the mid 1990’s they took a break from this genre and released 2 Thrash Metal Albums (Requiem & Octagon). Bathory got back to their Viking ways in 1996 with their Album “Blood on Ice” which they had actually recorded in the late 1980’s. Following Blood on Ice, Bathory continued along the Norse theme with a further 3 albums before Quorthon’s death in 2004.
Although Bathory are considered the pioneers of the genre, their exploits saw an increased interest in the Nordic theme. Norweigian band ‘Enslaved’ followed Bathory and began to record using Vikings as their inspiration. Their first 2 Album’s along with Album’s by Emperor, Burzum, Helheim and Einherjer helped develop the genre further.
The late 1980’s early 1990’s also saw German Viking Metal band Falkenbach begin to enter the genre. Falkenbach are believed to be the first Viking Metal band from somewhere other than Scandinavia. This led to the spread of Viking metal to other European countries with Viking history.
Since Falkenback introduced Viking folklore and Viking metal to Germany; Viking metal has since influenced metal bands all around the world. This has caused some controversy within the Viking metal community. It has been said that you can only be a true Viking Metal band if you are decended directly to the Vikings.
Viking Metal is now considered by many to no longer embody any particular sound. Experts say that Viking Metal is now part of a web of genres and sub genres. Therefore, due to the lack of a particular sound for instance, the genre has become diluted. Now the only ways to discern if something is truly Viking; through the Imagery portrayed; through the bands lyrics; the bands name or individual track names.
There is much debate as whether Viking Metal is a genre in its own right.
Some will argue that viking metal is a mix of death metal and folk metal and others will say that every genre and sub-genre is so named after the content and the musical production, therefore, there is no reason as to why viking metal cannot be a sub-genre in its own right.
Amon Amarth are well known for their viking themed lyrics but they themselves categorise their music as Death Metal
Bathory. Bathory are credited with the first death metal band that used vikings as a theme for their art.
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