Black metal is splintered into roughly eighty thousand subgenres. It’s part of what makes black metal so great but at the same time it makes black metal a little more than ridiculous. It’s endearing and frustrating. A lot of bands try to distance themselves from it altogether and some embrace it with wholehearted seriousness while others embrace it just to be ridiculous. One of the many subgenres of black metal, and one of my personal favorites is pagan metal, which of course could be broken down into a hundred different genres based on culture. Viking metal is the most easily recognized of the subgenres, so much so that it’s almost a different genre of metal altogether. One thing I’ve noticed about Viking metal after over a decade of listening to hundreds of album is that Viking metal is not bound to the Scandinavian countries, myriad bands actually reside all over the world, especially over here in the states. Utstøtt is a pretty damn good example of Viking metal outside Viking territory.
In fact, when I first listened to Hjørungavågr I assumed that it was Scandinavian in origin given the sound and the fact that the song titles were written in Norwegian. However, Utstøtt is two-man outfit from Portland Oregon. Imagine my surprise. Hjørungavågr was released about a year and a half ago now and since then I’ve seen it gain quite a bit of traction. It’s a Viking metal album (obviously) which I love (again obviously) but it’s also described as a concept album which I find even more fascinating because concept albums aren’t done enough nowadays. The story, as Utstøtt tells us, begins with a sea battle in which our protagonist is killed; he’s taken by Freyja to Folkvangr and thus begins his true journey. It’s an awesome story because Folkvangr doesn’t get the same amount of press that Valhalla does, despite Freyja actually getting the first pick of the fallen warriors.
Anyways, Hjørungavågr is a Hel of an album (pardon the pun). It combines the best of atmospheric Cascadian Black Metal scene and the bombastic Viking Metal. The influences on the album are pretty clear, you can pick out Windir, Agalloch, or Enslaved inspired riffs fairly easily. That’s not to say at all that the album is merely a mishmash of copies. Far from it in fact. Utstøtt has a very distinct and clear sound; it’s expertly produced to lend the atmosphere a raw but still clean and precise sound. The guitars, bass, and keyboards are played masterfully, weaving the predescribed riffs into melodies distinct to each song but still familiar enough to carry the story through the album. The things about concept albums is that they tell a story but often enough the music, ironically, doesn’t connect between songs. Utstøtt avoids that problem and really draws in the listener, urging them to go deeper in the narrative.
It’s not a short album, at 70+ minutes it’s a mammoth storytelling event so make sure you have the time to listen to the whole thing uninterrupted because that’s what this music deserves. Stories like this need to be listened and given undivided attention. This album is very much worth the 70 minutes it takes to listen. Nearly everything about the album is perfect. If you have any interest or knowledge of Norse mythology or Heathenry, this is an album that will satisfy you.
Listen and support!