Into the winter of the soul.
Into the ice.
Foreverblack meadow, embrace new dawn, on raven’s wing,
Hear winter’s song.
Many of us assume that December is an ill-fated time of year for the release of new metal records, what with lots of fans (and writers) being preoccupied with year-end lists and year-end life diversions. But on the other hand, the onset of darkness and cold that December heralds makes it an ideal time of year for the advent of certain kinds of music, the kind that delves into the darkness that comes as the wheel of birth and death rotates into winter — and it seems that RÖKKR‘s self-titled debut album is one of those.
The words quoted above are from the lyrics of one of the album’s five tracks. Further connections to the season are found in such song titles as “Blackest Dawn”, “Into the Ice”, and of course the closing track “Winter”. But how does the music itself form the connection? Today you’ll find out — though it probably isn’t what you would expect.
The glistening opening strains of “Raven’s Wing” themselves channel an icy but inviting mood, and that mysterious and melancholy melody continues to flow through even though the music suddenly becomes far heavier and far more harrowing. The song jolts with tremendous force and writhes in agony, with screaming vocals that only magnify the song’s unnerving intensity and frenzied guitar leads that sharply pierce the mind and then quiver and wail in ways that will pop your eyes open wide.
That first track, the shortest of them all, is a stage-setter, introducing listeners to the visceral power, the evocative melodies, and the challenging machinations of RÖKKR‘s brand of hybridized metal. It’s the kind of opening track that a friend of mine calls “a barrier to entry”, not because it’s off-putting but because the immediate impulse is to listen to it again repeatedly before moving onward. So much happens, and so much of it is startling, that it’s hard to take in all at once on one go.
Once you do make your way into what comes after “Ravens Wing” it will become evident that the darkness RÖKKR explores is as much psychic darkness as the kind that comes from shortened days, and that the winter explored here is one that descended in an ancient age or in a setting of myth and magic, of swords and sorcery.
There is electrifying yet unsettling fieriness in the music as much as the bite of chilling gales, and a persistent unpredictability to the mercurial riffing, as well as explosive powerhouse rhythms that are spine-shakers and blazing leads and adrenaline-punching solos that continually seize attention.
The music also really is a hybrid, drawing influence from Nordland-era Bathory, Tolkien, and Thin Lizzy, with guttural death-metal roars usually carrying the lyrics. The songs regularly rock out when they’re not applying a pile-driver to your neck, and they include episodes of grand heavy metal glory and tragic majesty to go along with musical signs of ecstatic madness, soul-shaking despair, and ancient folk mystery.
Especially in the monumental closing track “Winter”, the album also ascends to epic and mythic heights, even though it’s also a bone-crusher and a head-spinner (and the song ties back to “Raven’s Wing”, making it easy to start over again).
Did I mention how fucking fantastic the solos are? Well, of course I did, but it bears repeating.
Now we invite you to listen to the album as a whole. It’s intoxicting.
And now for some further background about the album and the people responsible for this musical extravaganza. RÖKKR is principally the work of Kyle House, who currently maintains membership in Decrepisy and Serpents of Dawn and previously was a member of Acephalix, Vastum, and Necrot, among others. On this new album he was joined by Adam Perry of Vastum on drums. Together they recorded the album with Jeff Davis before his tragic and untimely death. Mixing and mastering was handled by Greg Wilkinson of Earhammer fame.
The album is described as “a concept album and a soundtrack to a journey deep within the mountain’s eye. RÖKKR explore the darkest parts of the psyche and what lives in the shadows in the deep, all through symbolism and mythology that connects to roots beyond this lifetime and gives a sense of meaning to the chaos of the endless wheel of birth and death”.