Style: Blackened Folk Metal
Release Date: 6 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Metal Archives
Here's another one man band to kick off the new year, though I'm really not imagining Joe Caswell busking at the roadside with dozens of instruments on and strapped around his person. He's a Canadian who I believe is generating those instruments in a studio through the magic of synths and, outside those keyboards, I don't know how many he's actually playing in person. I'd guess at the guitars at least and maybe the drums too.
I picked this one out because I'm hearing a lot of great music coming out of Canada of late and this looked interesting. Not only is it a one man cross beween black and folk metal, but it's instrumental and also a concept album, the ten songs on offer representing a different jötun from Norse mythology. Put together, they're jötnar or giants and the music is accordingly big and bombastic.
With an intro and an outro, the first real song is From Hræsvelgr, the Winds and it does rather a lot in its three and a half minutes. It starts out as a strutting folk dance in the Trollfest style, led by bass guitar and followed by accordion. It speeds up midway, initially in the black metal style we're expecting but then with a hint at thrash, which we're not.
Caswell mentions "blackened folk metal" on the Burden of Ymir Bandcamp page, which seems fair as there's a lot more of the latter than the former. Songs like Hosted by Vafþrúðnir highlight that by including no metal at all and a focus on harp as lead instrument. Others, such as the dynamic Because Þrymr Looted the Hammer are clearly metal songs but the folk melodies outweigh the black metal drumming without much effort.
This song was a real delight for me. It ventures into thrash metal as often as black metal and it's sometimes a real heads down system cleanout. I love the dynamics between the folk melodies, whether they're played on guitar or accordion, and the speedy sections. What's most bizarre is that it wraps up with what can only be described as chiptune. I would totally splash out for a game that has me playing a Norse giant stealing Thor's hammer and burying it eight miles deep in the earth as an incentive for Freyja to marry me.
The same goes for the end of Suttungr Seeking Vengeance, as if Caswell came from the world of gaming soundtracks but wanted the musical freedom of this solo project. Jötnar is the first Burden of Ymir album, but there are three previous EPs. The first contains nine tracks but only lasts twenty minutes, so this album would seem to be a real progression.
The best aspect of this album for me is easily its playfulness. The lack of vocals frees the music and allows it to roam free and get up to the sort of shenanigans that always went down in Norse mythology. That story about Þrymr is full of theft, cross-dressing and outlandish feats of eating and the song about it is just as lusty and larger than life, as are the rest. It wouldn't work to create songs called Thus Came Skaði with Bow Held High or By Surtr's Shining Blade and have them be underwhelming and Caswell makes them larger than life.
The worst is the reliance on electronica, because it makes some songs feel a little artificial. The ethereal melody behind the drums on As Eggthér Strums the Harp would normally be played on a flute, but it's surely the product of the synths here and it ends up reminding of the Doctor Who theme tune. That happens on To the Lair of Þjazi as well and it's a little offputting. I have to assume that the harp and accordion are synths too.
This is fun stuff, great to kick off the new year of 2020, even if it might sound even better with a full band playing it live on stage.