Look, between you and me I understand: that album cover’s not doing anyone any favors. I don’t know if any other genre covers the range of content and quality in album art quite like metal does, and sure: there can be as much beauty in lo-brow pen scrawls as in slick professional-grade artwork. But man, this one ain’t much to look at. And I know I’m risking further aversion by telling you Pimeä Metsä plays Viking death metal in the vein of bands like Amon Amarth but they hail from Spain. But bear with me, because No Blood No Glory doesn’t care for things like borders or album covers and just want to keep it metal, keep it viking, and keep it fun.
Pimeä Metsä (Finnish for “Dark Forest”) started in 2006 in Madrid, Spain but really began in earnest in 2009, playing around the region and supporting larger bands like Arkona and Korpiklaani when they would tour Spain and the surrounding countries. 2010 saw their first demo Beneath the Northern Lights followed by a string of dates leading up to 2013’s debut LP Legacy of the Heathen North. Songs like “Warmarch of the Jotuns” and “The Wolves’ Rebellion” do an okay job of replicating the more folk elements of bands like Korpiklaani and Turisas, but the music felt like just that: replication and copy without any sense of place or individuality.
What a difference three years makes. According to the press release, No Blood No Glory is, in their words, “a step forward in the compositional plane, but without abandoning our identity.” Jumping out of the gate with “Viking’s Creed” it’s apparent their compositional skills took a huge leap up — the folk elements are more naturally integrated in the mix, and the metal is much more aggressive, striding forth along the lines of Ensiferium and Amon Amarth. The gallop is nailed perfectly, and the next two songs, the raging “Thunder God” and the ridiculously anthemic “Nothing Can Stop Our Strike” would be highlights on anyone’s Viking album, let alone this one. If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s that every song with the exception of two short interludes on No Blood No Glory carry the same drive: there’s a marching vibe to closer “Cry for Freedom” that manages to shy away from the driving gallop in place, but that’s about it. Still, while all the songs are consistent in tempo and drive, they’re all consistent in quality so I’m not going to complain that much.
In this day and age of musical borders being largely imaginary, where a guy sitting at a desk in New York can emulate the second wave nastiness of Norwegian black metal, it should come as no surprise that a bunch of guys from Spain would channel the frosty mythology of Scandinavian metal, but it’s still surprising how well Pimeä Metsä manage to evoke that sense of spirit on No Blood No Glory. Just be sure to ignore that cover, because some fine meat and potatoes metal lie within.