Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Otyg's "Alvefard" - An Unknown Classic

I am drawn to things and people that don't sell themselves or put on a show to attract your attention.  I don't need to sell this album to you and its time of relevance has come and gone.  It is kind of weird for me coming to terms with that realization because I have been listening to this album for 16 years, and it has always sounded new to me.  I remember I was working at a deli in Marion, Iowa back then and though I have since become more well versed in the language of fake Swedish, I was just learning at the time, and I would sing these infectious melodies and triumphant soaring choruses over and over as I went about my day.  Never before nor since has an album so infectiously pleased and attached itself to my heart with its catchy and richly melodic stylings.  This album has really found a renaissance with me in the last few months, and I feel like I am enjoying it more than I ever have.  My purpose here is to celebrate this album and give it a well deserved break down, to further understand the reverence it deserves.

In 1998 when this came out, the metal world was bursting forth into dozens of sub-genres and it seemed everyone was trying new ideas, and a lot of it was great.  I go back to this era quite often for new things that I may have missed.  Otyg had tremendous foresight and bravery to take this idea to the hilt, and they were very lucky to have hit the nail on the head with this album in particular.  (I will note briefly that though I liked it when it came out, Otyg's follow up "Sargovindars Boning" falls vastly short of what Alvefard was able to achieve, and hasn't aged well with me.  Maybe in another 16 years I will get around to liking it.)  Musically speaking this album is a metal record, arguably more prog than metal but lets not get caught up in semantics.  Most other forms of folk metal at this point in time had a backbone consisting of the standard ferocious and / or vicious blackened metal with various flutes and violins adorning and dressing it up to be folk or viking metal.  I have to make a clear distinction here, this type of metal I have a hard time considering "true" folk metal, whereas an album like "Älvefärd" I consider to be a more believable interpretation of original Swedish folk songs into this modern heathen foray (* nod to Falkenbach).  Bands like Finntroll or Moonsorrow can play squeezebox pizza metal all day long and I can count on one hand the number of albums I like in this niche, but I think "Älvefärd" champions all of that nonsense.  To further illustrate my perceived authenticity with this record, Swedish folk music is traditionally played on a violin or fiddle, and Cia Hedmark's violin playing and simply gorgeous accompanying vocals are given a great deal more play in Otyg than most other bands.  Additionally there is a fair amount of terrific flute playing throughout the album.

If you take away all the above elements, the core of "Älvefärd" is mostly some sort of 70's prog album with a modern leaning toward the heavy without veering too closely to anything sneering, evil or ferocious whatsoever.  The influence of bands like Saxon, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, & Focus is probable.  The band's satchel of talent is flourishing with ideas that lay the groundwork for these varied songs.  Furthermore I think it is important to highlight this album in particular because Otyg had three demos prior to this debut, which never quite fell into place, but show that a far amount of carving trial and error went into making this such a perfect record.  Vintersorg's talent is unquestionable as a guitarist and a vocalist.  Knowing that he was a tender 20 years of age when he began the odyssey of Otyg is clear evidence of this.  Singing entirely with clean vocals and writing such stirring and memorable songs are what make this far and away my favorite output of Vintersorg.

Last year I attended a metal show in Chicago featuring several bands from all corners of the earth, and while I'm not too familiar with the themes these bands dwell upon, it was pretty clear that if you weren't into Satan, you weren't welcome at this show.  I was never really into Satan but I tolerated the idea because for most of my life, I would have argued that all metal should be about Satan and at least concern itself with an enjoyable amount of spiritual warfare to counteract the right wing religious upbringing all of its fans had endured.  It took this show to make it clear to me that I no longer had a place in this particular form of heathenry. I'm a much more humble man these days and no longer and I drawn to such reckless contagion of negativity.  The grandest things I enjoy now are in the ways I connect with nature, science, history and art.  As of late "Älvefärd" has been waiting for me at the edge of the forest inviting me into its humble and welcoming world.  In this way I fell a much more fulfilling and familiar connection with it than I ever have.