Mighty Music
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Twisting The Knife
02. One Man Army
03. Wood, Iron And Will
04. Sanguis Et Aurum
05. Sorte Grethe
06. Call To Arms
07. Fall Of Arkona
08. Blood Eagle
09. Kings Will Fall

15 years into their careers, Denmark's VANIR are still evolving. "Epitome" is the band's seventh album, and one that purposefully endeavors to cement their reputation as purveyors of epic melodic death metal with a throbbing Viking heart. Their earlier albums showcased a very different kind of modern metal band: steeped in the trappings of a then flourishing folk metal scene, VANIR were harder and nastier than many of their peers, but it wasn't until 2019's "Allfather" that they seemed to finally focus in on what they do best. Dark, brutal and atmospheric, the Danes' take on melo-death may not be the most original, but what it lacks in fresh ideas, it more than makes up for in conviction and windswept hugeness. "Epitome", rather conveniently, amounts to the epitome of that approach.

Bursting into life with the ferocious "Twisting The Knife", VANIR have clearly sharpened their compositional blades. This is a much shorter and more concise record than either of its two predecessors. "Allfather" was a well-constructed change of pace and mood with occasional hints of filler, and 2022's "Sagas" was more refined but still slightly bloated affair. In contrast, VANIR's seventh album is streamlined and precise: nine songs, with no fucking around, and a laudable uniformity of style and purpose.

"One Man Army" sounds exactly as a song dedicated to a lone berserker should: speedy and vicious, its furious gait belies a melodic core that adds a touch of melancholy and melodrama. "Wood, Iron And Will" is darker still: predicated on some grim, old-school riffing, but delivered with a haughty and austere flourish, it feels like an upgraded throwback to the early days of DARK TRANQUILLITY and AT THE GATES, albeit with surging synths and maximalist, orchestral depths swirling around in the background. "Sanguis Et Aurum" could be VANIR's most directly melodic and authoritative creation to date. Incisive lead hooks, a brilliantly gruff vocal from frontman Martin Holmsgaard Håkan, and a huge and catchy chorus that expands out into a dense fog of interwoven guitars. Like previous high points "Væringjar" (from "Allfather") and "Dødsfærd" (from "Sagas"),  it brims with classic metal bravado and sounds custom-built for the live arena. Similarly, both "Sorte Grethe" and "Call To Arms" revel in VANIR's redefined trademarks. The former is full of MAIDEN-esque melodic tricks that deftly punctuate the weather-ravaged intensity of drummer Jon Elmquist Schmidt's blastbeats. The latter is a profoundly stirring, mid-paced skirmish that owes a debt to early AMON AMARTH, but without losing the impact of the Danes' widescreen, lightly blackened bombast. Elsewhere, "Fall Of Arkona" begins with VANIR in war-march mode, before passing through an evocative, loose-limbed mid-section that erupts into another vast chorus; "Blood Eagle" celebrates one of the Viking's favorite methods of execution, but with measured steeliness and sobriety favored over gleeful violence; and "Kings Will Fall" brings "Epitome" to a close with another invigorating nod to the early days of melo-death, but with its creators' skewed traditionalism steering the ship.

The finest record they have made to date, and by some distance, "Epitome" has the songs and the charisma to elevate VANIR to a new level of prominence. Failing that, it will definitely chop your head off and nail it to a tree. Vikings arise (again)!

Author: Dom Lawson
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