I discovered Myrkgrav in the years of my youth when review scores on The Metal Archives were as comprehensive and inarguable as Michelin stars. So Trollskau, skrømt og kølabrenning’s 99% score (albeit on three reviews) revved my anticipation for epic folk metal in the vein of Finntroll. What I received, however, paraded no beer-pounding jolliness or magnificent bombast, but was instead a softer and more stony-faced dialect of folk metal I haven’t heard before or since.
Myrkgrav plays what I believe to be truly faithful folk metal. Often, bands with “folk” in their genre tags sprinkle folk elements in their music, or incorporate folk instrumentation at prescribed times, a la Ensiferum. “Folk” is an adjective to “metal”, rather than an inseparable whole. Myrkgrav’s sound, meanwhile, is of Norwegian folk songs played in a black metal style. For instance: “De to Spellemenn” is a cover of a traditional folk song, but it is nearly indistinguishable in a musical sense from the rest of the original songs in the album. Gang shouts, spoken passages, acoustic elements, and embellishing touches like the lyrics drawing from legends in the local Ringeriks dialect allow for folk to be more than a cheap adornment.
The heavier parts of the album provide a terrific balance to the overall sound. They work with the folk, rather than drowning it out. The guitar spits out icy tremolo riffs of that would feel at home in any raw black metal cut, and the excellent snarls provide a harsh, evil texture. But despite these decidedly heavy elements weighting the record, each is balanced in equal measure. The tremolo riffs are reframed by a clean, articulate production job that replaces unbridled fury with cold calculation. Airy keyboards also chime with mellow melodies as respite against the onslaught. The vehemence of the snarls are counterpointed by clean singing and gang choruses. Despite all this, Trollskau is hardly a balancing act; the harmony of elements feels natural and unforced.
The clear star of the show is drummer Lars Jensen, who manages to outperform the fantastic performances from guitarist Lars Jensen and vocalist, Lars Jensen. (Myrkgrav is a one-man project.) I air-drum more measures on Trollskau than any other album by a large margin. Just like the other instruments, the drums heed to the needs of folk metal. Blast beats are shunned; even the double-bass is used sparingly. The drums are a spice to the album, mainly using the snare and a bevy of cymbals to accent notes and silences. The percussion production is crisp, active, and full of life. Listening to the beats is a real treat on every single song, but the opener “Gygra og St. Olav” captures my heart especial. Please behold the zestiest drums.
Trollskau is an achievement of an album that is neither folk with metal nor metal with folk, but is a distinct whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. As is often the case with one-man bands, no compromises are made, and Trollskau remains true to its art and subject matter. Perhaps it’s not deserving of a 99% score – but Trollskau is a breathtaking love letter to Norwegian culture. Give it a go.