- Review by Faye Coulman
REVIEWED: Finntroll + Skálmöld @ Camden Underworld, London
It’s hard to believe a full nine years have elapsed since genre-defining folk metal horde Finntroll last brought their rousing yet intricately wrought elvish revelries to the capital. Particularly when, to all outward, casual appearances, everything looks to be exactly as they left it following their last outing here nearly an entire decade prior. Indeed, the sprawling human centipede of a queue presently snaking its way round the back of the Underworld confirms that, at long last, all has finally returned to relative normality, despite the numerous casualties incurred by COVID-19 in recent years.
Indeed, on this grey, unseasonably chilly night in early April, tonight’s visibly elated crowd require little prompting or encouragement from support act Skálmöld as far as their prerequisite warm-up duties are concerned. So from the very moment the Icelandic metallers hurl themselves headlong into a frantic cacophony of hammering blasts and searing riffage capped off with generous measures of hearty, beer-swilling shouts, the prevailing atmosphere within is palpably thick with adrenaline as the venue strains to contain the ever-increasing number of punters now pouring into it in thick and fast succession. With its weightily reverberating grooves and dizzying crescendos of bristling tremolo sparking an instant frenzy among fans, these rough-hewn displays of aggression are admittedly lacking in technical precision and finesse in places. That said, there’s also a tantalising smattering of compositionally engaging moments strewn in amongst these more generic, rock-driven anthems, with ‘Mara’ being richly laden with luxuriant riffery and densely layered baritone vocals that abound with the sombre majesty of a bygone era. And, for the purposes of whipping up light and pleasingly energised entertainment, Skálmöld’s hooky and heavily riff-laden repertoire seems to more than adequately suffice.
This raucous, jauntily stomping episode over and, with the tell-tale dimming of the stage lights, a faintly ritualistic thudding of percussion and a blinding flurry of flickering strobes, Finntroll’s tremendously anticipated set gets off to an intensely theatrical start. Through grandiose swathes of dizzying orchestral flourishes and airily whirling synths, a shadowy collective of figures looms into view and a deafening roar of applause rises from the rowdily cheering assembled masses. Above sleekly muscled lines of darkly reverberating, folk-infused riffery, ‘Att Döda Med En Sten’ is ablaze with wintry, tremolo-stricken hostility, its caustic screams finding impeccable placement in amongst airy flurries of exquisitely delicate choirs. From here, the mundane surroundings of the venue with its dingily claustrophobic, windowless confines, its reek of stale sweat and clogged London drains all promptly melt away into nothingness as we’re borne up and aloft on luscious expanse of elegantly tangled strings.
Among the various, dizzyingly energised highlights extracted from 2020 opus ‘Vredesvävd’, the visceral yet richly layered ‘Ylaren’ strikes a masterful balance between sumptuously entrancing musicality and bitingly abrasive extremity. With its genre-shattering blend of whirling accordion notes, lofty penny-whistles and opulent orchestral trappings displaying darkly absorbing complexity above a bone-splintering onslaught of turbulent bass and face-melting screams, Finntroll’s almighty stage presence circa 2023 is truly something to marvel at. Elsewhere, ‘Ormfolk’ comprises a veritable supernova of incandescent aggression, with its larynx-scalding screams and pummelling blasts gathering searing acceleration in amongst numerous episodes of devilishly intricate, classical instrumentation.
Together with this freshly-debuted array of viciously energised new material, there’s also no shortage of choice cuts to be savoured from all corners of the Finns’ expansive back catalogue. Retracing their compositionally intrepid craft all the way back to the craggy, chest-beatingly primal energies of 1999 debut ‘Midnattens Widunder’, ‘Svartberg’s’ unrelenting rain of skull-splitting blasts and gargantuan slabs of churning bass instantly bludgeons us into submission. With its brutalising, multi-directional blows sending tremendous shockwaves of aggression down to the venue’s deepest, subterranean foundations, the deliriously jaunty throes of 2006’s iconic ‘Trollhammaren’ see the Underworld transformed into a manic whirligig of ceaselessly frenetic, hair-flailing motion. Sustaining staggering levels of stamina and hyperactive energy through to the final leg of the performance in which Tim Burton-esque humppa romp ‘Under Bergets Rot’ leaves the crowd breathless and beaming with visible delight, Finntroll have here reminded us precisely why their blistering and joyously vibrant craft has long been beloved and admired by so many.