Posts Tagged ‘metal’

Rekindling the Varangian Flame, Part 2

Friday, March 8th, 2019

“Send the Magyars to slaughter us all in our sleep. Slit our throats, trample our bodies, and string us up to dangle, windblown and decaying from the nearest tree.”

The upbeat positivity and general good vibes of the suicidal Viking metal death-wish music project continues as the band members of Varjagikaarti relate what happened when they finally ventured deep into the land of the Rus.

Experience the true Fennoscandian cultural insensitivity of Part 2 over at Metal Sucks now.

And for your aural pleasure, Varjagikaarti wouldn’t be what they are today if it weren’t for these guys…

And my prior interviews with other Modern Vikings are still sadly online too. Check them out if for some reason you feel so inclined. Here’s a direct link to the one about spazzing out in a Stockholm subway station:

Self-Condemned in the Tunnelbana

Rekindling the Varangian Flame, Part 1

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

“Never have I seen a more complete denouncement of the meaning of human life than that murky, yellow obscenity that hovers above the rooftops of Miklagård like a celestial plague raining its poison down upon the feeble souls below during the darkest depths of the eternal night. It made me want to kill myself.”

And if that introductory quote doesn’t make you want to read all about the highly dysfunctional extreme Finnish metal band Varjagikaarti’s suicidal Viking metal voyage down the Dnieper River deep into the heart of old Varangian territory, then I don’t know what will.

Check out Part 1 over at Metal Sucks now.

And lest this post be wonting of a proper and thematically appropriate metal video…

And lastly, check out some of my prior interviews with other Modern Vikings too, if for some reason you feel so inclined. A couple direct links are below.

Fear and Loathing in Western Sweden

Dream Hard On

How to Dally with Whores and Lose Kingdoms

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

“The sea was dark like iron, flecked with white horses, and with a livid band of light in the far distance. There was a biting wind blew from the north-east.

‘Wither shall we sail now?’ asked Biorn, ‘if we be not to be drowned?’

Styrbiorn answered and said, ‘We will sail North.’

Styrbiorn the Strong is a little gem of a book by E. R. Eddison that traces the epic sea-voyaging, philandering, and warmongering adventures of Styrbjörn Olofsson as he raises hell all over Sweden, Denmark, and the broader Baltic Sea region in general. An actual figure from the sagas, Styrbjörn features in the short Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa and receives passing mention as a leader of the Jomsvikings in Eyrbyggja Saga and the Heimskringla, but because a proper saga was never actually devoted to his escapades (or was lost to the mists of time), Eddison decided to rectify the situation by creating one for him. This was way back in the 1920s and that version of the book has long since gone out of print, but fortunately the hearty champions of Scandinavian literature over at the University of Minnesota Press re-released it in 2011 with a new, special afterward by Paul Edmund Thomas.

Eddison was big on the sagas and even translated Egil’s Saga himself, so he was a guy who knew his source material and used it to inform much of what he wrote, both the historic fiction of Styrbiorn the Strong and a number of early 20th century fantasy novels that he wrote. His work was highly praised by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Ursula K. Le Guin, and anyone who reads fantasy will understand that’s no small matter, so it’s a bit of a pity he that isn’t more widely known.

The novel itself is a blast to read for anyone who likes a good Viking adventure and enjoys fine, ornate word-work. But saga purists may appreciate a word of caution: this is not the taut and straight-forward, emotionally-detached story-telling of the sagas. Nor does it conform to the easy-flowing sort of narrative style typical of today’s novels. This is an old-fashioned sort of story-telling in both the styling of the language used and the way in which the content is handled, which tends towards a generally chivalric/romanticized mood more along the lines of Wagner than the harsh, medieval brutality more commonly associated with Vikings at present day. But for those who can appreciate that (or at least, don’t mind it), reading Styrbiorn the Strong is a very worthwhile venture. And anyone familiar with the Völuspá, Völsunga Saga, and The Saga of the Jómsvíkings will find even more to enjoy because those are all drawn upon in some manner as Styrbjörn journeys to and from his native Sweden.

And because Styrbjörn’s heart is always set on heading northe (as the quote up top makes clear)—back home to Sweden—and because Norse adventures, epicness, and metal go hand-in-hand, what would this post be without a lyrically appropriate video clip by the guitar-serkers of Stormwarrior?

But a few more passages exemplifying the glory of Eddison’s language are worthy of direct quotation here before condemning this post to its final resting place down at the far end of Hel-Road. For epicness’ sake.

This passage refers to a pivotal moment that occurs midway through the novel. And while the name-calling is fun, the chivalric attitude of Eddison’s writing prevails, when Styrbjörn declares (on the same page) that what he did was wholly foul and of his own doing, and really no fault of the woman whom he viciously claimed to be a whore:

“After a while Styrbiorn, still in his former posture watching the endless procession of surges, said in hard toneless accents, ‘Shall I tell thee what I did in Sweden?’

‘Am not I thy brother?’ said Biorn.

Styrbiorn said, ‘I dallied with a whore, and I lost a kingdom.'”

Eddison’s epic battle descriptions are pretty badass. This battle scene features livestock as weapons and takes place at Fyrisvellir, near Gamla Uppsala, which should ring a bell for anyone familiar with Hrólfr Kraki’s Saga:

“And now there was an evil din of cattle bellowing and horses squealing, and there was many a man slain there or trampled or maimed or limb-lopped and their array near broken, and much folk fell both of the Jomsburgers and of them that drave on the beasts.”

And this is just simply one of the most glorious descriptions of Valhalla that I have ever read:

“On a sudden our Father Odin lifted up a hand, and there was darkness in heaven all save the light of the Father’s face, and they all stood up and waited in the listening gloom. And now was a noise far off, like lashing rain among leaves in a forest, and with it a rolling as of thunders far away, and pale lightnings flickered afar and vanished and flickered again through the night. Very slowly at first, then with swift strides, it drew nearer, until the roar of the tempest was like the roar of cataracts fed to fury by a cloud-burst among mountains. The lightnings streamed in rivers of molten steel and silver from the roof-beams of that hall, which is lofty as the tent of night, and the Einheriar clashed their weapons together and shouted with a shout that was heard above the deafening thunder: ‘Hail the choosers! the storm-raisers! Hail to the shield-mays of the Lord of Spears, the Father of Ages, the Loving One! Hail to the lords of earth whom they bring to join our fellowship!'”

The Great Norwegian Trolldomizer

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Trolls are inspirational creatures. This is pretty much an established fact, at least among 19th century/very early 20th century Scandinavian artists. I’ve long known about the trolls and tomtar illustrated by the Swede John Bauer, who I hailed in the distant past for his more Norse-myth related work, but I had been embarrassingly ignorant of Theodor Kittelsen’s extensive contributions to the canon of visualized trollery till I read John Lindow’s Trolls: An Unnatural History. The sad thing is, I’ve long been familiar with some of Kittelsen’s work, but I failed to put it all together. The forest troll depicted above is probably the most recognizable culprit, but Kittelsen did so much more. Like this disturbed/disturbing sea troll:

Or this troll marauding down Oslo’s main street with Henrik Ibsen being pompous and oblivious in the lower right corner:

Or these trolls marching to war for Norway (I think; I’m not actually totally sure what’s going on here):

Or these trolls on their way to the fairy-tale Soria Moria Castle:

The trolls go on and on and there is a much more extensive collection of them over at Monster Brain’s website for those who feel the lure of Kittelsen’s trolldom. There’s also a whole exhibit dedicated to Kittelsen’s art over at The Cobalt Works and Mines in Åmot, Norway (because viewing classic trollish art at an early industrial underground mining may not be an obvious idea, but it is an ingenious one).

But that’s not all! Kittelsen also illustrated cool Norse related scenery, too. Like this Viking ship flying/crashing through some evergreen trees(?):

And this image of a sea monster, probably Jörmundgandr:

And then there is this, his grand tribute to Norwegian folk traditions involving the playing of the lur. Metalheads will recognize this one because of its association with Varg Vikernes and Burzum’s Filosofem album, which has unfortunately given the artwork a bit of a negative association. But of course that is not Kittelsen’s fault; he was long dead before Vikernes was even born, let alone murdering people and committing arson.

Gateways to Trolldom

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

For those who have ever wondered: “Why isn’t there a general interest book dedicated solely to the history of trolls, their various forms of misbehavior, and the human world’s changing perception towards them as documented through literature and art over the past 1000 years?” Well, wonder no more! Because back in 2014 John Lindow finally released a volume through Reaktion Books to end that nagging curiosity (I’m always timely in my book “reviews”). Unfortunately, Trolls: An Unnatural History just doesn’t have the mass appeal or selling potential of something like 50 Shades of Pointless and Smutty Relationship Drama, so it lurks in the periphery, outside of the normal confines of human interest where it revels in its otherness, and in that sense, exists just like a troll itself. How appropriate!

So, it’s a fun and interesting book, covering the evolution of trolls from their earliest documented instances as a source of fear and harassment and cursing among the Norse (“That Halldor guy is a piece of shit! I hope the trolls get him!”) to their more benign and fairy-tale like incarnations in more recent centuries. John Lindow makes it clear that their general otherness and tendency towards disrupting normal human conventions, whether maliciously or not, has remained constant through their evolution. And he is a professor in the Scandinavian department at UC Berkeley, so I think we can probably trust him on this (he’s got a number of other relevant Scandinavian/Norse publications to his credit, too).

I particularly enjoyed learning more about how the word “troll” is actually used among the various Scandinavian languages. I knew in Swedish that a “wizard” is a trollkarl (troll-man or magic-man), but the use of the word extends so much further beyond simply being a funny way to describe Gandalf’s profession. My favorite was that in Danish, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is translated to be Taming of the Troll. Who wouldn’t want to tame a troll? And why isn’t there a metal band called Troll-Tamer yet? Or maybe there is and I’m just ignorant.

The Jutulport in Våga, Norway

I also really liked the part about Jutulporten in Norway, because it was entertaining and I’d never known about it before. Troll and giant are conflated a bit here, but Jutulporten is basically a mountain gateway to the land of the trolls in Våga. There is a fun tale about how you can get a terrible crick in your neck if you watch a troll or giant walk through the portal against his wishes, and it is retold in English on the Nordigard Blessom site, a farm/bed and breakfast that takes shares its name with the main character from the tale. It’s a well known tale in Norsk-speaking countries, but less so in English-speaking countries, and was illustrated by the Norwegian artist Peter Nicolai Arbo:

Arbo’s work may be recognizable to those of you who are familiar with his more famous rendering of Odin’s Wild Hunt:

And last but not least, what would a post about trolldom be without a proper soundtrack to accompany it? Hail Fejd!

Norumbega Blót

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

In the shadow of Leif Eriksson’s Tower at Norumbega, Vinland

Lo there did we honor the Leif the Lucky at the sacred site of his Vinland colony! Indeed, a make-shift blót was recently held to honor the colonizer of Norumbega with mead and metal along the banks of the not-so-swiftly moving Charles River. And though we made no actual sacrifices (unless the contents of a ceramic bottle of Dansk Mjød Viking Blod qualifies), Leif nonetheless did smile upon us by granting passage to the top of his tower, which is usually barred off because that is the era in which we live. Needless to say, the make-shift blót was a huge success and surely a bountiful harvest is in store for the coming year.*

The open-handed proginetor of barbaric nobility performed skaldic arts and generously bequeathed idols of Odin, Thor, and Tyr for alcoholic worship upon the altar of erroneous history

Hail Tyr! And how appropriate that this is being posted on a Tuesday—is this coincidence, or fate?

We also perfected the magical “Skull Splitter” disappearing trick

And what would a Norumbega blót be without a thematically appropriate song sung in Swedish but transcribed only in runes?

*Leif’s tower bears a striking resemblance to Frey’s most distinctive feature, so the fact that we intruded into what was supposed to be an “impregnable” stone shaft is ripe with all sorts of symbolic meaning.

That One-Handed God of Warfare and Legal Advice Sure Plays a Mean Guitar

Saturday, May 12th, 2018


The Scandinavian invasion of Vinland continues to go strong this year. It’s not everyday that the good god Tyr intervenes with his divine providence in…Providence, Rhode Island, to be exact. And it wasn’t on a Tuesday either. For some reason Quebec received that honor this past week (really, Quebec?…well, better than New York). But anyway, he came to us in the form of his namesake band, hailing all the way from a far-off island pseudo-nation that most skraelings have never even heard of. And it was glorious.

And while I’m babbling about Scandinavia and metal and such, here’s a mindless diversion that also doubles as one of my least worst contributions to society and humanity at large:

I BRING THE SPIRIT OF TRUE NORWEGIAN BLACK METAL TO OUR CORPORATE OFFICE ENVIRONMENT

And I stole that image above from McSweeney’s twitter page. Yep, another good true story.

Winter Ravaging of the Theater District

Monday, February 19th, 2018

This February has been an unusually devastating month for Boston’s theater district, in all the right ways possible. First, Wardruna descended upon the neighborhood, bringing with them songs of ancient lore performed with appropriately ancient instruments like the kraviklyra and goat horn.

Then, when the smoke cleared and the dust settled, Myrkur and Enslaved sailed in to finish the job. Praise be to Odin for delivering this two-pronged sonic attack!

Now, if only Fejd could figure out a way to visit Vinland.

The Shire’s Underground Metal Scene

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

“Our live show goes all the way to eleventy!”

Frozzy artwork by Matt Smith

Like a piping-hot pork pie pulled fresh from the oven, the uncertainty of Middle-Earth’s survival hangs thick in the sweaty, night air. The hors d’oeuvres are gone, the pre-show music has started its slow descent towards nothingness, and only the occasional whistle or jeer for faster service can be heard. The stage is set, the kettle is rumbling, and finally, the curtain is drawn and the backdrop revealed. A lavishly well-stocked larder looms high overhead, its countless jars of herbs and jams, pastries and fruit pies sending tingles down the spine of every famished guest gathered before us. …Hail onwards »

Vikingaliv: Return of the Swedish Pagans

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Stockholm’s got a brand new Viking museum on the way, set to open next weekend! And it’s about damn time, too. New Viking museums don’t come along often enough, or outside of Scandinavia enough either for that matter, but that’s a separate topic that will only lead to a downward spiral of depression and heavy mead drinking if followed.

So then on that uplifting note…Vikingaliv aims to rectify Stockholm’s problem of not having a full-out museum dedicated solely to Vikings. Its creators are promising an educational experience unlike any other, one based on the latest research to give visitors a complete and accurate representation of the Old Norse lifestyle. It will also have original artifacts on loan from Historiska Museet and a shop and restaurant selling and serving authentic, local goods and food. And being situated on Stockholm’s leafy Djurgården island beside Vasamuseet (17th century piratical-style ship museum) and Junibacken (the ultra hardcore Pipping Longstocking museum), Vikingaliv is set to be in good company.

And for those of us on the wrong side of the Atlantic, at least we have some genuine Swedish pagans from Falun visiting us tonight:

True Corporate Black Metal

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

It’s 2017 now and there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, which means it’s high time to address the crucial and critically important question: what would happen if you combined a corporate office environment with a diehard black metal dude? The topic is a mystery for the ages and a clear deviation from my usual, unhealthy obsession with Vikings, but it’s one that’s still aggressive and still Scandinavian. Read more about it here on McSweeney’s:

I Bring the Soul-Defiling Spirit of True Norwegian Black Metal to Our Corporate Office Environment

And while we’re on the topic of true metal, I recently had the chance to visit Trve Brewing in Denver, where they combine tasty craft brews with the ambience and ethos of metal. What’s not to like about that? Check out the photo that I took of their beer menu and the two graphic images of their labels that I pilfered off their own website:

Appeasing the Gnomes of Midwinter Darkness

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

Yuletide’s once again upon us and what better way to celebrate the season than by admiring Þorgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr’s rain of death and destruction upon the Jomsvikings in an epic medieval sea battle as is shown in the image below?

Or how about this one, in which King Hrolf Kraki spreads gold upon the fields of Fyrisvellir to distract and escape the dastardly Swedes in Uppsala?

These scenes of pivotal moments from the Norse sagas were drawn by Jenny Nyström, who interestingly, was also responsible for popularizing the prevailing imagery of the Jultomte, the notorious gnome of Scandinavian folklore who demanded to be appeased with a bowl of porridge during the month of December or else he would start conducting some serious mischief, like tying cows’ tails together or knocking shit over.

Jenny Nyström was very prolific with her work, supporting not only herself, but also her invalid husband and their son. She was born in Kalmar, Sweden, where there is now an exhibit at the county museum dedicated to her honor. She passed away 70 years ago, but thankfully left behind many runes to her own memory.

And on a side note, since we’re heading into the darkest depths of winter, here’s a little something to help set the mood:

Dream Hard On

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

For anyone who’s ever wondered about the demeanor of Odin’s wiener, Swedish warrior-poet turned slacker-beach-bum Björn Svensson finally sheds some light on the topic. And it turns out that ole One-Eye’s own one-eyed warrior is a feisty little dream-weaver. Horns up to Jersey Devil Press for not ruthlessly rejecting this majestic piece of thoughtfully-constructed and immaculately-researched investigative journalism:

Dream Hard On

Also, if the topics of Odin’s wiener, nightmares, heavy drinking, and heavy metal interest you, check out the precursor too:

Fear and Loathing in Western Sweden

Finally, what post about the nine worlds’ most worldly one-eyed warrior would be complete without a reminder of his immense power?

Djurgårdsbron: Where Silent Gods Stand Guard

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Djurgårdsbron is a bridge in central Stockholm where Freyja, Thor, Frigg, and Heimdall stand guard…silently. Just Like in the song, only minus all the decapitations and shape-shifting into wolf-form. And for some reason Odin is missing from the entourage. But otherwise, just like in the song. And if you cross the bridge, you don’t arrive in Asgard, but rather Djurgården (essentially Swedish for “Animal Farm”…menacing, indeed), one of Stockholm’s many islands and home to, among other attractions, the official Pippi Longstocking museum (also very menacing).

The statues were created by Rolf Adlersparre while the bridge was designed by architect Erik Josephson and built by Carl Fraenell in 1897 for the world expo that took place on Djurgårdsbron the same year. The old-timey photographs look pretty hardcore, but not nearly as hardcore as medieval wolf-men wielding swords and slaying all foresworn enemies in an endless orgy of slaughter and mayhem:

Barbarian Lord Tells It Like It Is

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Barbarian Lord is both a hardcore boozer who possesses extremely violent behavioral patterns and a keen appreciation for poetry AND the name of the recently* released graphic novel dedicated to portraying his adventures in boozing, brawling, and poetic appreciation. As Barbarian Lord’s own personal real-life skald, Matt Smith sings Barbarian Lord’s praises and spreads his renown to those of us who are not fortunate enough to lift a sword and join in his adventures firsthand. Matt’s also an all-around good guy who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a few horns with at local venues ranging from “the highest hall” to “the lowest cave” (in his own words, and if you know the area then you can likely guess what those are).

But getting back to the book, this is the sort of work for people who like the following:

-Vikings (obviously)
-Icelandic sagas
-Heroic understatement
-Badass illustrations
-Evil trolls and other monsters
-Vicious conniving
-Sexy witches who maim innocent birds
-Demonic possession of domesticated farm animals
-And, last but definitely not least, death metal allusions

If you’re even at this weird, little website, then that should be enough to convince you to hail the hero himself at http://barbarianlord.com/ and to join his quest for justice, drinking, and killing all who stand in his way.

*I say “recently” somewhat loosely because it was actually released last summer, but being only half a year behind the times is a step in the right direction for me. The last time I blogged about a book, I was three years late. Skål for punctuality!