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Friday, July 11, 2008

CD Review: Pagan Fire

Pagan Fire
2008 Nuclear Blast Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I normally don't tote gratuitously over compilations since their inherent nature is to cross-sell catalog full-length albums, but sometimes comps are put together with love and honesty for its subject matter or at the very least a stout pair of nads with full comprehension of what it's doing. In such cases, the compilation ends up being quite cool, whether you're talking a two-disc overview of classic soul like Stax's 50th Anniversary collection or the old Flipside punk anthologies, or even a roundhouse of psychobilly cuts on the wild-as-hell Start Your Engines.

Pagan Fire is one of those few compilations that enjoys itself immensely by targeting what most writers would call "Viking Metal," or "Heritage Metal" or "Finnish/Swedish Death Folk" or whatever suits them to describe the tumultuous sound of heavy marching odes usually honoring the Celts, Vikings and other past warring cultures of Europe and Scandinavia. Where Manowar and Saxon celebrated the chivalrously-interpreted cutlassing history of England, there has been a literal flotilla of contemporary metal bands from across the entire Euro continent such as Tyr, Amon Amarth and Enslaved (the latter two of which appear on Pagan Fire) that have turned on the jets and screamed their bloody guts out in what is one of the more fun sanctions of metal being created today.

While a lot of this style of metal is played fast, furious and almost cheeky with an underlying polka essence to much of it, the inherent national pride of the bands playing in this form is worth checking out because that makes their metal just a bit harder, and on Pagan Fire, Nuclear Blast Records gives you the opportunity to experience the insane speed and rancor of these bands, mostly from past and present in-house selections, plus a few outside extractions including a rare cut from black metal legend Bathory.

Even though a band who defines the subgenre like Tyr is sadly missing from Pagan Fire, what is here is more than compensatory, be it the blunt velocity of Equilibrium, Korpiklaani, Wintersun, Bal-Sagoth and Falkenbach or the monster stomps of Eluvetie, Amon Amarth, Primordium, Turisas and Unleashed. Of course, Pagan Fire brings us the graceful black metal caresses of Enslaved's "Isa" and the epic carryover of Moonsorrow's "Kylan Paassa" for good measure.

If growling isn't your thing, that is perhaps the only deterrant from enjoying Pagan Fire, since the majority of these groups bellow their lungs into the sails of the longships and the frost-covered mountains that inspire their songs of heraldry and ransacking. Still, this particular genus of metal is one of the last pure forms being created right now, and sure, there's a bit of novelty to it when you get deep, down and probing into it. I mean, seriously, polka and thrash mixed with reed instruments and war tome chorals? Sounds like the stuff tailor-made for Spinal Tap The Next Generation, but once you've heard the majority of the bands appearing on Pagan Fire, you just might get this stuff and hopefully be won over. Hails and hellstorm abound, this compilation's got the goods and a few oars of chaos to carry you over Pagan Fire's raging waters.

Rating: ****


bob_vinyl said...

I think the nature of comps have changed. In the 80s, a lot of both punk and metal comps were more like scene documents than label samplers. It was a way for smaller bands to get their names out there. I guess now it's so easy to make your stuff available (Myspace alone is a huge tool for bands) that the art of creating the comp is almost lost. It's nice to hear that someone is still doing it well though.

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Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

You're so right, Bob. Even when we went to Vans a few years ago and gobbled up all of those comps, they seemed cool scene-busters at the time, but now it's more like what I'm trying to convey as being marketing pushers. In some ways, it's a waste of resources, though at least the exposure is good for bands playing a certain form to reach a curious following, if not those who would check them out by attrition. Comps are definitely a far cry from the Flipside days, and I think those two albums remain my absolute favorite compilations ever.

RE, hi, sorry I haven't visited; not a snub or anything; will check you out soon

DPTH International said...

I dang near bought this compilation, but I own a lot of the bands albums and didn't want to double up on tunes. I love this style of metal!