Published December 9, 2013
Arriving to Harpa’s Eldborg Hall on Saturday night, I find my seat just before Skálmöld and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra begin their third and final sold-out show.
Around me, middle-aged dames with expensive pelts draped over their shoulder sit next to bearded metal-heads with their five-year-old kids, kitted out in Skálmöld t-shirts and ear protection. I had heard that on a previous night even the country’s former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir had been spotted throwing devil signs at the band, which formed four years ago and has since released two critically acclaimed albums.
Accompanying the six-piece band are 160 plus people making up the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the Hymnodia choir, Reykjavík Men’s choir and Káranesskóli children’s choir. The show starts with these three choirs performing an extended, goose bump-inducing version of “Heima.”
What follows is a careful selection of meticulously rearranged songs from both `Baldur’ and `Börn Loka’ albums. The songs are slowed down, and their intensity paced so as to ward away metal-fatigue, which makes the show accessible to both Harpa season ticket-holders and diehard metal-heads alike.
Guitar riffs and solos are alternatively supplemented or replaced by 22 violins and a booming brass team. Drum segments are lent further weight by massive percussion instruments, and the instrumental bridges are made larger-than-life with the full force of the 71-member symphony orchestra.
It takes a few moments to get used to the disparity between the electric and acoustic instruments, and the one segment featuring Addi from the band Sólstafir is noticeably lacklustre, but those are my only niggles about the otherwise awe-inspiring performance.
When the three choirs join in, it is as if the heavens have opened up with Valkyries and the Gods welcoming the protagonist to the afterlife in “Valhöll,” and like lost souls are echoing the queen of the underworld’s message in “Hel.”
Skálmöld closes the show with “Baldur,” a b-side from their first album, and the crowd rises out of their seats, clapping along to the 13-minute-long song.
The concert proves an amazing experience for both fans who know the songs inside out and newbies to Skálmöld’s Viking folk metal. My guest confesses that she didn’t really like Skálmöld before arriving at Harpa, but she, like a number of others I speak to after the show, were blown away by the execution.
Of the hundred or so live performances I’ve seen in 2013, this was by far the most magnificent. If the Grapevine were to give stars for live reviews, I’m certain my editor would argue my rating broke the scale. For now, I’ll simply suggest that those who missed the concert buy the live DVD, which will be released on December 17.
Can We Fit More Metalheads In Here?
Update: The DVD of the performance will be released on December 17, not 19.