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Rebellion

Miklagard

Review by Mike Korn

More than any other variety of ancient warrior, the Vikings have fascinated heavy metal bands. Sure, you'll hear occasional tunes about rampaging Huns, Roman gladiators and sword-swinging samurai, but only the Vikings have an entire sub-genre of metal dedicated to them, featuring bands like Amon Amarth, Tyr and Thyrfing. However, its doubtful that even these worthy warriors have taken their obsession with Viking culture and history as far as Germany's Rebellion. Springing from long-time German heroes Gravedigger, Rebellion have embarked on a multi-album epic examining the history of the Norse raiders in great detail. Their first disc in the series, simply titled History of the Vikings In Iceland, was OK but not earth-shattering...a plodding effort with occasional flashes of brilliance. Miklagard is a different story...this album is full of power and energy, brimming with an urgency the previous disc lacked. The songs are rough but catchy...they are what I call real power metal, lacking the fluffy keyboards and sweetened vocals that have become associated with that genre. Better yet, Miklagard tells a rousing blood and thunder tale combining fact and fiction. We follow the travels of a hardy band of Viking adventurers as they set off across Dark Ages Europe to the fabulous city of Miklagard (Byzantium), where they hope to win fortune as mercenaries. The lyrics remind me of old Iron Maiden in the way they bring an ancient time to life. This sort of bare-knuckled, fist-pounding metal does indeed sound like something the Vikings might have played as they rode their dragonships into battle. Miklagard is one of the proudest examples yet of Viking metal!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Vi Seglar Mot Miklagard
Don't ask me what the title is, but I'm guessing it's something like "We Sail To Miklagard." This is a laidback mellow intro with both spoken dialogue and sung lyrics in Old Swedish.
Sweden
Here the metal kicks in with a brisk pace, hard drumming and a great chorus that sticks in the brain. This last characteristic is found throughout the entire album. The lead vocals are rough and not smooth but somehow this fits the idea of a Viking narrating the story. Here, one of our adventurers prays to his god for courage and luck on the long voyage ahead.
Free
This is another hard-driving tune but not quite as quick as "Sweden". The Vikings here set sail on the open sea and revel in the freedom of travelling the waves to an unknown destination. It's to the song's credit that it actually makes you feel the thrill of that moment.
On the Edge of Life
A hard galloping beat not unlike prime Iron Maiden drives this tune as our Vikings sail into a forbidding frozen wasteland full of mythic danger.The chorus is another great one: "Through this world of ice and snow/In the dark strange creatures glow/frozen giants passing by/standing on the edge of life". The song quickens about half way through,pumping even more adrenaline in the listener's veins before a strange interlude with what sounds like electronic monk's chants cuts in - killer song!
Ulfberth
Ulfberth is the name of a sword belonging to our Viking narrator and he gets to use it, as the Vikings must battle a group of brigands. This tune hammers and pounds with fierce metal energy right from the go.Man, these guys are just brilliant when it comes to memorable vocal lines! Here, the following refrain makes me feel like picking up a sword and charging to battle myself: "Ulfberth, Ulfberth, sword of the master/Whistling death as I swing thee faster/Ulfberth, Ulfberth, spin like a wheel/Dealling death..steel you feel!" This is pure battle music!
The Rus
The album moves from strength to strength with this thunderous mid-paced stomper with a main riff designed for furious headbanging. You can almost picture the ancient warriors riding out to war with this blasting in the background. Our Viking heroes now find themselves in the land dominated by the tribes of old Russia, the Rus. These are hardened fighters that even the Norsemen must respect.
Kiew
The Vikings stop for a time in Kiew, the mighty citadel of the Rus. Like the city itself, this song is stately and elegant, with more of an emphasis on melody. It's an epic with another one of those great Rebellion choruses.
Aifur
The Vikings now sail once more into danger. They have to brave the wild river rapids known as "Aifur." This is a rugged, fierce song with fast double bass drumming that suggests the raging waters of the rapids. On this cut, though, the chorus seems awkward and the vocals are just too strained. But the guitar solo is one of the best on the album.
Taste of Steel
Another battle song! I have no trouble labelling this hard-charging cut a thrash metal number. It's reminiscent of the faster Gravedigger and Accept numbers of the past. "If you are hungry for blood/Well,I shall feed you steel/Grind your face in the mud/A taste of, taste of steel."
God of Thunder
After vanquishing their foes, the Norsemen pause to give thanks to Thor, God of Thunder. This is a slower, grinding cut that gives a breather after the previous two speedy numbers. The lead guitarist cuts loose with a sizzling bluesy solo to add power to the song.
Our Back To The Wind
The pace picks up again with this speed metal blitzer. The Vikings are now on the last leg of their voyage to Miklagard, crossing the Black Sea. The vocals again are kind of rough and awkward, but I didn't feel that was a handicap this time around. The song cools down in the middle with a quieter section featuring low-key acoustic guitar picking and hushed vocals. Naturally, the track picks back up and ends with another burst of energy.
Miklagard
At last the Vikings have arrived in fabulous Miklagard, where they place themselves in the service of fellow Norseman Harald Hardrade, who leads the Varangian mercenaries that guard the Emperor. This song is the most melodic and "medieval" sounding of all on the disc, with more subdued vocals and some keyboards to add atmosphere. The chorus is a haunting chant: "The golden roofs of Miklagard/I see you shining in the sun/My destiny lies within these walls/Oh,Miklagard." This is a tune that shows a more composed and epic side to Rebellion.
The Uprising
The Vikings have joined Harald Hardrade's forces just in time to aid him in a revolt against the Emperor of Miklagard. Steel and fire flash in warfare! The longest cut here, this has a feeling of old Iron Maiden and British metal to it, with some twin guitar harmonies and duelling guitar solos. It caps off a rousing saga of Viking adventure that I hope Rebellion continues on their next album.
 
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