Classic Album Review: Skalmold – Baldur (2010, Tutl Records)

Posted on by Paul in Albums, Classic Albums | Leave a comment


Skálmöld_-_Baldur

I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick as of late, for several reasons. One of the reasons is the fact that we’ve just wrapped up our coverage of this year’s SXSW, which commonly involves a bit of looking back and reflecting on what went down over the week, and which also often leads me to reminisce in general about past editions of SouthBy. And the realization that I’ve been going to Austin every March since 2011 and that the Panic Manual has had a presence there since 2009 gets me thinking about the past, and also that I’m getting old. The main instigator of all this nostalgia however, was a bit of a Spring cleaning jag I went on earlier this week wherein I uncovered a few artifacts from my time here at Panic Manual, including a bunch of old handwritten notes for potential posts. Yes, back in the day I wrote out many of my original rough drafts by hand – very old school of me.

Among these scraps of paper, I found the beginnings of a planned review of Baldur, the debut album by Icelandic Viking/folk metallers Skálmöld. I do not really remember ever listening to this album, though I do vaguely remember that when I started out writing for Panic Manual, I had big plans to broaden our scope by writing about more metal. And I guess something about this album caught my attention at the time, probably the Berserker Viking dude on the album cover charging forward while holding an axe. It is a somewhat striking image, and one that predates the premiere episodes of Game Of Thrones or Vikings by a bit, so they were a little ahead of the curve I guess.

Anyways, in the interest of not being wasteful, I decided to finish that review up and also delve even further into nostalgia by resurrecting our old Classic Album Reviews series, even though at the time the first draft of this review was started it was a relatively new release. Is Baldur actually worthy of being designated a classic? Not likely, but odds are it might be somebody’s favourite album somewhere in the world, so let’s just go with it.

And now, without any further ado, here’s the first paragraph of a review I started nearly a decade ago:

They say you can’t judge a book (or an album) by its cover. But just look at that cover! It’s practically screaming to be judged. And what it’s saying (in a Viking warrior cry) is “I am awesome.” It’s the kind of cover that kind of tells you exactly what kind of music you will be hearing.

And that’s it. That’s as far as I got with this review, which indicates that I may have never actually sat down and listened to the album, but that I at least had something to say about the cover image that I considered kind of funny at the time. And so after taking a very long break, I’m finally putting pen to paper (virtually speaking) and wrapping this one up. So what does the album actually sound like? And does it hold up?

Initially released on Faroe Islands record label Tutl in 2010, but later rereleased in 2011 on Napalm Records, Baldur was Skálmöld’s introduction to the world. The band has gone on to put out four full length albums in the years since the release of this one. I have listened to none of them. But I have now listened to this one at least, and it’s a pretty solid album as these things go.

For those unfamiliar with Viking metal, it’s pretty much what you might expect from the name – fairly epic sounding stuff full of Nordic chanting and more aggressive vocals as well as plenty of melodic guitar lines along the way. The Viking aspect is not just a refelection of the band’s Icelandic roots, but also represented in the story behind Baldur, a concept album with supernatural elements telling the tale of the titular Viking and his epic quest for revenge after the death of his family. I gathered as much only after reading about the album online – the lyrics are all in Icelandic, so I’m fairly unclear on all the details. Sounds like a cool story though.

And finally, I’ll wrap things up with another note that I found in amongst those papers, this one from a 2011 Summerworks review of a show by Toronto indie folk band Great Bloomers. It didn’t make the cut at the time, not really fitting in anywhere in the review, but now it can finally be revealed (even though it doesn’t really fit at all in this review either). So I leave you with these thoughts, written down on a yellow sticky note on that August evening long ago:

After the show, some dude asked me for change, told me he was 79 years old, then asked me if I was some guy named Herman and/or a cop. I told him I wasn’t but he seemed pretty insistent that I was.

True story. I wonder whatever happened to that guy. And I wonder if he likes Viking metal.

Concert Review: Alice Phoebe Lou, March 28, The Garrison

Posted on by Paul in Concerts | Leave a comment

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It’s become a bit of a tradition for me over the years. Every year, in advance of the Panic Manual team’s annual trek to Austin for SXSW, I scour the local concert listings for the names of acts who’ll be coming through Toronto before playing the Texas festival, hoping to either check them off my list before SXSW has even begun, thus freeing up space to see another of the hundreds of acts playing there during the week, or to make a note to catch them again if they really impress.

German singer Alice Phoebe Lou was initially one of those acts I’d hoped to see beforehand, but due to some unforeseen visa-related issues with her tour, the first couple of dates got shunted to the end of the tour instead, making her Toronto date the first show I’d see this year after the craziness that is SXSW. Probably for the best, as outside of the hustle and bustle, her music had more of a chance to shine through. Well, Maybe “shine” is the wrong word to use for a show at The Garrison though, where everything is perpetually bathed in that low, purplish light.

Lou mentioned how glad they were to finally be playing Toronto after the delay for what was now to be the final show of her band’s current North American tour, following that comment up with a Timber Timbre cover, thus cementing her Toronto cred.

She also played a handful of songs without the band, including one song introduced by Lou as being “about pictures of people’s dicks being sent to people who don’t want to see them” that ended up being one of the most memorable of the entire evening. She followed that up with a song performed on the piano and introduced thusly: “I’m going to play a song on the piano. I don’t do so very often so it might be a little fucked up but it’ll be fine.”

Lou has a funny and very personable manner on stage with a voice that’s simultaneously ethereal yet powerful. I’m sure that no one in attendance (including Lou and her bandmates) would have minded if the show had gone on much longer than it did, but Lou had other plans, informing the crowd that she and her band had to cut out of there quickly after the show to catch a midnight flight (adding that she was glad they didn’t book with Wow Air).

The highlight of her set for me was her performance of “Skin Crawl,” a song about the patriarchy and toxic masculinity which she introduced as being about “not being a dick” and which covered many of the same themes as the earlier ‘dick pic’ song. It also featured a nice moment where Lou and her band played a musical interlude while she spoke over it, explaining that it would give everyone a chance to use their “witchy energy”.

“But in a good way,” she added.

Good witchy energy – I can’t really think of a better way to describe the mood of this show.

SXSW 2019 Recap: Bests, Worsts, Etc.

Posted on by Ricky in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

The Comet is Coming

This was our 11th year at SXSW. It definitely seemed smaller than previous years, but that could also be because it didn’t coincide with Spring Break. Neverless, it was still fun and for me, it was a pleasure to see the rise of Asian bands to the forefront. Anyways, let’s do a recap.

Best Act

Gary:The Comet Is Coming. No question. Saw them at St. David’s first and then again outside of Latitude 30. Different feeling of euphoria each time. Also, Yola. I think I was on the verge of tearing up at one point – but can’t remember which song.

Ricky:
1. Otoboke Beaver. As I already wrote, they left an impression on me that i’ll remember for a while.
2. Chai
3. The Comet is Coming

Derek: Chai/The Beths/The Comet Is Coming

Paul: The Beths were my most anticipated act going in to SXSW and were easily one of the best acts I saw all week. I already loved their 2018 album Future Me Hates Me, but seeing those songs performed live sealed the deal. I saw them live three times during SXSW (twice on the same day) and probably would have been OK with seeing them play even more shows if I could have. Tracks like “Future Me Hates Me” and “You Wouldn’t Like Me” are feel good jams about feeling bad.

Worst/Most Disappointing Act

Ricky: Nothing really, since most of the bands I saw were new. I was disappointed Graham Coxon didn’t sing “Coffee and TV”, but that’s a minor complaint.

Gary: Everyone was pulling their weight this year and I honestly didn’t have a bad set, not even at the Australian who stripped down to his boxers … Maybe Big Phony. Because he would be disappointed if I wasn’t disappointed when he was trying to be disappointing. Films … now that’s a completely different story.

Paul: The great thing about SXSW is that if you don’t like something, you can just move on, so if you’re lucky you can avoid any major disappointments. That said, Italian shoegazers Be Forest didn’t do too much for me, but that’s probably more on me for being too sleepy and it being too late at night for their moody shoegaze sound to really hit home for me. The album still sounds good though.

Most Pleasant Surprise

Ricky: All the Asian rock bands kicking ass. Go Asia

Derek: Wyclef Jean’s performance at Parish

Paul: CHAI was amazing! Such a fun show. Also, seeing local Austin collective World Music Unleashed was a memorable experience. Five musicians coming together on tabla, sitar, violin, clarinet, and a standard rock drum kit to create a unique noise. Plus I found this mysterious message on a napkin at the bar at Russian House during their show:
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(According to Gary, it translates to something like, “people who don’t drink = fucking losers” … I guess they’ve got a bit of a point.)

Gary: Small Glories. Reminds me how wholesome Saturday mornings used to be when Vinyl Cafe would beam through just as I was bleary-eyed. Good thing my Alberta roots are still there to resonate with them. But I had also to restrain myself from answering that I am from Edmonton.

Favourite Moment

Derek: Seeing Chai.

Paul: Seeing Mike D and Ad-Rock of The Beastie Boys give a talk that was basically just an hour of them being hilarious was great. And on a personal note, singing karaoke at the Japan party was pretty rad.

Gary: When the vag-cannon was ready to fire. It’s really difficult to translate how hilarious this really was, so the alternative would be when The Nude Party sang “Chevrolet Van” and it was so stupefyingly good that I thought it must have been a cover…

Ricky: I really enjoyed this track by the Comet is Coming

Also, going to Uchi and Franklin for the first time ever was quite great. Hopefully not the last time

What Was Different or Notable About SXSW This Year?

Ricky: SXSW felt sparse and tiny this year. I wonder if that’s just because it wasn’t during Spring Break. The bands definitely felt even smaller than last year, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just different.

Derek: Noticeably smaller crowds, less access at Cedar St. Courtyard. :)

Gary: Austin was … lighter this year, on the psyche. Perhaps it was the chilly weather, or the thinner crowd, or perhaps a combination of the shows I decided to visit. It has not left the mark like last year. Coincidentally, it’s the first year in over a decade where I don’t have new tracks added to my phone from SXSW.

Paul: We’ve asked ourselves this question a few times in recent years and there’s been a general feeling that SXSW has been scaling down. It’s been noticeably smaller over the past few years, but this year was the first year that it felt smaller in a weird way. Not a bad way, necessarily, but like Ricky said, just … different. By the end of the week though, a quick walk along Dirty Sixth showed that in a lot of ways, things hadn’t changed too much.

Here is a playlist of bands we saw!

SXSW Reviews: Celeste, Dylan LeBlanc, Low Cut Connie, More Or Les, Body Type, March 16

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Celeste

For the purposes of breaking things down into neat (or not so neat) little categories, I’ll be dividing my coverage of the last full day of SXSW into two sections – Mojo Nixon and not Mojo Nixon. This is not to say that Mojo was necessarily better than anything else I saw on this day, but it did stand out as its own weird, crazy little thing separate from everything else. But other than the fact that they’re not Mojo, there’s nothing really linking the acts in these reviews together besides the fact that they all happened on the final Saturday. I guess that’s enough. Here goes:

Celeste
After scarfing down a few top notch breakfast tacos from Pueblo Viejo, I made my way to the convention center to take in a set from London-based soul singer Celeste, who started the day off nicely with some chill, jazzy R&B vibes on the Radio Day Stage. I’ve got to say though, going by just Celeste makes her slightly more difficult to Google, but I guess the one name thing worked for fellow Brits Estelle and Adele (and Sting), so then again, why not?

Dylan LeBlanc

Dylan LeBlanc
Making our way back out to South Congress later in the afternoon, we lucked out and arrived at Hotel San Jose when there was a bit of a lull in the lineup and only had to wait a few minutes before things started to move, getting inside in time to catch a few tunes from Nashville based singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc. LeBlanc and his band The Pollies impressed with a sound that brought to mind the likes of Band Of Horses and Neil Young at times.


Low Cut Connie
I’ll readily admit that we were mostly there for the fried chicken, but the fact that Philadelphia’s Low Cut Connie were playing a set to close things out for the night at Lucy’s Fried Chicken was just the icing on the cake … or the hot sauce on the chicken if I’m not mixing my metaphors. And much like the fried chicken, Low Cut Connie served up a greasy, satisfying experience to the packed house at Lucy’s outdoor stage, running through a set of down and dirty rock and roll. “You wanna see me get on top of this piano?” asked singer Adam Weiner at one point in their set and my only thought was, “Dude, I’m so far back I can’t even see the piano. But thanks for getting on top of something, I guess.”

More Or Les
After taking in an excellent set from Say Sue Me at Beerland (read Ricky’s review of their show from earlier in the week), I will admit that the week was starting to take it’s toll on me and I retreated back to Chez Panic Manual for a bit of a disco nap. I thought I might have been done right then and there, but I managed to rally and headed out to Flamingo Cantina to take in some nerdcore, catching a bit of MC Frontalot and Schaffer The Darklord before seeing the sole Torontonian act I would catch all week – More Or Les. Performing a set of songs from his latest, Nerd Love, along with a few choice selections from throughout his career, including set highlight “Brunch Again” – as he pointed out, you can be a nerd about anything, including Les’ favourite meal of the day. Performing with a projector for the first time ever (“a delicate and dangerous situation,” according to Les), he went full multimedia, which meant he had to contend with the projector getting jostled about for a bit, but after taping the damn thing down, the show went off mostly without a hitch. It went by too quickly for sure, but without too much of a hitch anyways.

Body Type
The final act of the night for me also put on one of the most energetic sets of the entire week. These four Australian ladies almost seemed to be having more fun than the audience for their 1:00am slot at Swan Dive, although the dude who felt the need to try and fist bump the members of the band during their set probably felt like he was having more fun. Body Type have only got an EP to their name so far, with another on the way in May of this year. Here’s hoping for even more to come soon.