Review: Lumsk’s ‘Åsmund Frægdegjevar’ (2003)
A Norwegian legend comes to life through metal
Identifying a “lesser-known classic” is difficult these days. Almost everything is online, bands unheard of by the general populace make successful careers through regular releases and constant touring across decades, and a quick Internet search shows even the smallest acts have a loyal following. Yet the feeling, perhaps misleading, persists that even in this excess of music, some of the best work remains underappreciated. One such album that I spin regularly is Åsmund Frægdegjevar by Lumsk.
Lumsk is a Norwegian band mixing metal and rock with folk and prog. The group’s first full-length release was Åsmund Frægdegjevar in 2003, followed by Troll in 2005. As reported in the band’s blurb on streaming platforms like Apple Music, a grant from the Nordic music festival by:Larm funded the band’s third album Det vilde kor (2007), which has a lighter style at times like Irish darlings The Corrs but with a prog-rock edge. The discography ends there, but the band’s Facebook page has an update from earlier this year, so the group appears to still be active. Loosely speaking — because this is unique fare — Åsmund Frægdegjevar hangs somewhere along the same branch of Yggdrasil as Blood Ceremony, Ava Inferi and Dark Sanctuary.
As the variety in the above name drops suggests, Lumsk is easier to categorize by atmosphere than specific style. Åsmund Frægdegjevar begins with classical strings, folk synths and martial snare before dropping its heavy riffs — the album’s real treat — and moving on to jaunty melodies equally suitable to a trek through the king’s wood as to a sea voyage to distant lands. Throw in male and mostly female clean vocals (no growls here), an in-band violinist, Hammond organ, and a small orchestra and choir, and you might expect the album to sound crowded, but no, no, no . . . this is music that breathes in the outdoors, in vast caverns and under vaulted ceilings.
The only drawback is a slight sag in narrative drive toward the end. Paradoxically, however, this is when Lumsk delivers some of its most memorable musical moments. “Fagran fljotan folen” has the coolest Mission Impossible vibe, “Kampen mot bergetrolli” opens with slewing strings like something out of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks, and “Der er ingi dag’e” features the church organ at Lademoen Kirke, Trondheim. These surprise turns, mixed with the band’s doomy yet somehow sexy, dirty, almost funky riffs — seriously, you must hear these — make for a distinctive listening experience.
The lyrics recount a medieval Norwegian legend of the same name as the album. When trolls kidnap Princess Ermelin, the king declares he will give her in marriage to the hero who rescues her. Åsmund, who is a Christian warrior, takes the job and sets out for the home of the trolls. Trials await, the worst of which is Skomegyvri, the Troll-mother. But Åsmund isn’t the hero of this tale for nothing, so he’s successful in the end, albeit with a little help from a magical steed. The lyrics are in North Germanic languages, but the CD booklet has a brief synopsis in English accompanying each track. It’s a simple tale but one that anyone who likes fantasy, myth and folk tales can easily enjoy.
The booklet also tells its tale through illustrations by Per Spjøtvold. They’re simple black-and-white line drawings in a style falling somewhere between modern book illustration and medieval engravings. There’s Åsmund at the front of his longship, there’s Ermelin coming upon Åsmund asleep (yes, the princess finds the dude asleep in this tale), there’s the Troll-mother leading her horde, and there’s the hero’s triumphant return to civilization. Spjøtvold also did the artwork for the band’s other albums, giving them stylistic unity.
I first heard about Lumsk a few years ago when surfing Twitter. I can’t find that tweet now or remember who posted it, but I made good on my promise in that exchange with a fellow music-obsessive to check out Åsmund Frægdegjevar. Everything is to love here, so if you aren’t already familiar with the band, I encourage you to look it up. Also, please do let me know some of your favorite “lesser-known classics” via a comment below or on Twitter at @Gleaming_Sword.