Review: Fortíð – World Serpent

Pagan / black metal band Fortíð (Icelandic for ”past”) have quite the interesting band history. Started as a very black metal / viking metal centric solo project in 2002 by Einar “Eldur” Thorberg and supported by session musicians, they stormed right out of the gate with a complete trilogy. The Völuspá-trilogy started with Part I: Thor’s Anger in 2003, followed by Part II: The Arrival of Fenris (2007) and Part III: Fall of the Ages (2010). After that, the solo project morphed into a full fledged band, and released two more full lengths: Pagan Prophecies (2012) and 9 (2015).

In the middle of production of their latest work, World Serpent, Einar had to move back to his homeland Iceland due to private reasons, leaving his band mates behind after having half of the 10 songs already recorded with them. Not giving up on the record, he recruited Kristján Einar Guðmundsson to help out on drums for the remaining 5 songs. Fittingly, Einar sees the record as a duology, where “chapters are bound together by an apocalyptic theme that provides a red thread running through this album”, not unsimilar to the cyclic themes of rebirth found in Norse mythology. As an example, according to the prophetic poem Völuspá, after the perishing of the Norse gods in the final battle of Ragnarök that witnesses the old world die in flames, they return on the next morning to a renewed world free from the old sins at the beginning of a new cycle. Now, is this the retrospect justification for a Frankenstein’s mess of a record, or can a red thread be found in the 53 minutes of running time on World Serpent? The latter. Definitely the latter.

This record is impressive. Einar blends thrash metal influences of the Bay Area style with some death metal riffing, plenty of black metal, viking and pagan guitar work, beautiful epic melody work and throws in just enough synth elements to give it that certain Icelandic touch. His vocal styles utilized on World Serpent range from angry grunting and shouting to gentle clean singing and back to black metal screams, and he does them all very well with plenty of character. Other than what you might expect from the album title and the small excerpt of Norse mythology one paragraph up, Fortíð have actually deliberately not used Old Norse literature in the lyrics of their new songs (apart from some metaphors). As Einar puts it: “I don’t want to get stuck in that Viking metal box. I take the freedom to do what I want and evolve.” And I am glad he made that decision, as the modern sound of the pretty stellar production and the use of quite a few modern sounding riffs would have been at odds with a purely mythological viking setting. As it is, World Serpent has me thinking of more futuristic settings actually, as e.g. US based Imperialist have done on their excellent 2018 record Cipher.

Most impressive for me is the songwriting though. While every song works as a standalone piece of music, I enjoyed listening to the whole record in one complete sitting at a time. There is no stretch of bad craftsmanship to be found, and never at any point did I feel the urge to skip a song. While all songs are very good, some are even better. As examples, I had a really hard time getting the tracks 3 (Controlled Patterned Mental Process), 4 (Insignificant is the Wormking’s Throne) and 6 (Son of a Barren Land) out of my head, as they were pretty addictive.

So here I was at the beginning of November, and my list of “top ten” metal records for 2020 was pretty much set in my mind already. Now I have to go back and reconsider. I might have to squeeze this in somewhere. If you like thrash metal, black metal or pagan metal, or a combination of any of the above, this is a no-brainer. Check out World Serpent by Fortíð!

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