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Review: Panphage - Drengskapr

Label: Nordvis Produktion
Year released: 2016
Duration: 41:38
Tracks: 7
Genre: Black Metal

Rating: 4.75/5

Review online: July 21, 2017
Reviewed by: Omni
Readers Rating

Rated 4.25/5 (85%) (4 Votes)

Sweden's Panphage is the project of Fjällbrandt. After the release of several demos, two split albums and a full-length album entitled Storm, Panphage had earned a reputation in some circles as one of the most exciting newer black metal acts. Drengskapr is the band's second full-length album, and it sees Fjällbrant exploring the Icelandic epic tale known as The Saga of Grettir the Strong. Grettir Ásmundarson is an important character of traditional Icelandic folklore, an outlaw known for his incredible strength and bad luck.

This album is a continuation of the previous style of Panphage, but the enhanced production style and emphasis on more scenic compositions befits the album's theme and evokes visions of the beautiful country where the story takes place. Fjällbrandt excels at creating fantastic riffs and melodic lead parts in the tradition of his countrymen in the 1990s Swedish black metal scene. Despite being programmed, the drum tracks are far from lazy. It's quite clear that a lot of effort was put into keeping them varied and interesting, rather than sticking to the same blasting rhythm throughout the entire album. The vocal performances range from easily intelligible chanting to harsh screaming. The variety and conviction in the vocal delivery adds to the already ample atmosphere of the compositions. It's important to note that while the music of Panphage could be superficially categorized as atmospheric black metal, Fjällbrandt's avoidance of the tropes typically found in that style and reliance on expressive, guitar-oriented songwriting set him apart from bands that create music with an emphasis on banal repetition and minimalistic ambient interludes littered throughout barely metallic compositions that never change tempo.

While this album is best taken as a whole, every track remains a cohesive composition when viewed individually. "Glamsyn" is especially unique in that it is a truly beautiful instrumental composition inspired by the curse that Glam placed on Grettir after their fateful battle. Although Grettir was victorious, Glam's curse would ultimately be his undoing. This plaintive track perfectly captures the mood of that moment in the story. "Drangey" is another definite highlight, a song inspired by Grettir's final battle in which he was slain by Torbjörn. This track bears the most distinctive guitar work on the album and excellently conveying the sorrow and chaos of Grettir's final moments. The lyrics for the songs are not displayed in the liner notes, with the band instead opting to include a brief synopsis of the part of the story that inspired each track. While certainly not necessary, an understanding of the epic tale that inspired the album may serve to enhance the experience of listening to the album.

Drengskapr stands as a modern classic and one of the true highlights of 2016. Panphage represents a deliberate rebellion against modern trends in black metal, instead evoking the spirit of earlier Swedish black metal. This album continues the trend of Sweden's superiority at combining melodic guitar work and feral black metal and it holds up favorably against classic albums by many better-known bands while also rendering most of the hyped black metal of today utterly irrelevant.

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