Various Artists: Pagan Fire

There’s been an upward swing in recent years in the brand of metal that incorporates Viking and pagan mythology into its sweeping, battles-and-explosions lyrics. The music is generally rooted in death/black metal, though leaning more towards the refined power metal approach with dashes of melody than the raw extremity typical of Scandinavia. With the Paganfest Tour (several of whose headliners are featured on this CD) fast approaching North American shores, this sampler seems well-timed, covering the bases of folk/Viking/whatever metal’s biggest names.

The roots of this often goofy phenomenon are justly represented with pioneers like Bathory and Enslaved, although the former only get a paltry intro track. The titanic groove of Unleashed, a band who were howling about Vikings while some of these bands were still in grade school, is unmistakable, as is the listener-friendly death metal plod of Amon Amarth. A handful of keyboard-heavy songs practically indistinguishable from one another soon follow, full of lyrics and posturing straight out of Braveheart that are hard to take seriously in the midst of the accordion-ready sound. They’re mostly going by the folky Finntroll recipe, and when the originators are hard to separate from their admirers, one has to wonder if all these tracks, though silly and chant-ready they may be, were necessary.

Ultimately, it’s the iconic names that stand out. Enslaved, Unleashed, Moonsorrow and Primordial (in edited form, sadly) lead the bombastic charge of modern day extreme metal that’s heavy, but flanked by imitators full of happy melodies and keyboards. Even the Rhapsody-isms of Turisas and Bal-Sagoth, impossible to ignore, lose their flair in the haze of sameness. Everyone’s lyrics roar about battles and strength on the rare occasion that they’re in English, working the imagery these bands employ to the max. An admittedly entertaining listen, but only a handful of important songs.

In A Word: ODIN!