I don’t know about you, but after thirteen years on the go and with a sixth studio album on the verge of being birthed, I’d expect a few more people to have a handle on Denmark’s Vanir, who continually seem to fly under the radar.
Will Sagas, that already-mentioned sixth album, change this state of affairs?
It’s hard to say. For whilst Vanir are undoubtedly incredibly competent at what they do, it’s that very solidity that might well continue to hold them back. They seem unable, or maybe unwilling to spread their horizons too far from their fairly rigid Viking metal template; Not necessarily a bad thing, you may argue, but when this particular arena is already pretty crowded, it takes something special to stand out from the crowd. And for too often on this record Vanir are content to churn out noisy but inessential fare like The Bounty of Flesh and Bone, tracks which are unlikely to snare any new fans over the long term.
Which is a shame, because when the band hit their straps – as here on excellent opener Day of Reckoning, the punkier Sessrúmnir and epic Tolkien tribute Battle of Middle Earth – they prove they absolutely have the smarts to reach a wider audience.
That opening track is a scorcher, marrying the band’s customary brutality to a symphonic edge that pays real dividends and confirms that the band can really thrive in more progressive territory. Second track Black Clad is more visceral, but adds a folksome flavour and irresistible chantalong vocals that perhaps establish the alternative side of the Vanir coin. More of this might well have had this reviewer eating out of the band’s hand, but then things drift until the excellent Sessrúmnir gets things back moving in the right direction. Rougher and more immediate thanks to a memorable guitar line that runs through the verse and a scything figure played by axemen Philip Kaaber and Kirk Backarach mid song that somehow draws brief memories of the Sex Pistols out of the back of the mind; this is the point of difference the band fails to grasp elsewhere. And it’s great!
Battle of Middle Earth is more what you expect, although the band replace Norse mythology with the world of Tolkien; Not a great change, of course, and the band approach the subject matter with reverence, in the process delivering one of the best tracks they’ve ever committed to wax as they squeeze every last ounce of drama out of the track, led by a febrile performance from vocalist Martin Rubini.
As noted, Vanir don’t actually do anything wrong on Sagas, but for this reviewer it’s just not brave enough as a whole album to warrant a glowing recommendation; But when it’s good, it’s very very good indeed. And maybe that’s enough for now.
Sagas releases on March 11th.