From the first proto-metal or Cream and Iron Butterfly, the first true metal of Sabbath spread like a virus, infecting every corner of the world, with power chords. As metal evolved hundreds of genres and sub-genres emerged as each new set of adherents added their own take on metal.
And, on Friday (November 14th) in Belfast's Mandela Hall an international line-up of Skálmöld (Iceland), Arkona (Russia), and Eluvietie (Switzerland) brought their own interpretations with a mystical mélange of metal mythos meaty enough and delicate enough in equal measures.
Skálmöld opened proceedings with a muscular take on Viking metal, but with their national identity seared throughout every note of their set. Vocal delivery is in Icelandic, and arrangements of some tracks reflects song patterns from the epic poems of the Viking era.
All six members of the band lend vocal parts to the tracks and as Árás leads into the epic track 'Gleipnir' Baldur, Gunnar Þráinn and Snæbjörn lead the line with Jón Gei on keyboards and oboe with Snæbjörn's drums lending texture as they move from song to song with aplomb and energy that belies their status as openers.
With a subtle blend of classic thrash, Viking metal, death metal and Icelandic traditional arrangements tracks from Napalm Records release 'Með vaettum' - including 'Með fuglum' and 'Að hausti' - were merged with older songs.
As the last echoes of 'Kvaðning' faded he applause was richly deserved. While Skálmöld have taken the Viking metal template it and added layers, the sound is rich and deep, and some original arrangements make it stand head and shoulders above many plying their trade in a similar furrow.
They earned new friends and new fans on Friday and a return to these shores would be welcomed from these Reykjavík raiders.
Coming on stage in traditional Russian pagan dress Arkona brought through take on metal with the stunning vocals of Masha 'Scream' growling in a way that many a man would envy.
Title track of the new album 'Yav' opened the set in a full-on tirade of metal with aggressive intent, despite the presence of Valdimir playing a range of wind and ethnic instruments. Rather than detracting from the sound it enhanced the overall textures, lending a breadth and depth to the sound.
Man mountains Sergei (guitar) and Ruslan (bass) rumbled throughout with Sergei roaming around the stage like Rasputin with a sore head and wielding his flying V with real metallic intent.
Andrey's drums were pounding out almost tribal beats and by the time they played 'Zakliatie' they had hit their stride. Masha's manages to contrast death metal growls with melody.
With some thought towards the ongoing Ukrainian war the Slavic triumphalism was worrying, but a little research proved that this was more about looking back - and Masha has recently said she has no interest in politics. Given the title 'Slav'sja, Rus'!' was the one that caused some concern it is reassuring that Arkona are about metal and painting aural pictures of a pagan past in eastern Europe rather than getting involved in today's wars.
Given this is a tour that sees Eluveitie back the 'Origins' album it was no surprise that many of the that release was featured. But, bloody hell, when you see Eluveitie live there are shed load of them on stage....
Really it takes until 'Nil' before you realise the stage is packed, with even the hurdy gurdy getting crowded as Anna extracted a series of deceptively complex sounds. But as they moved into 'Carry The Torch Chrigel's multi-talent was on show as he moved from hard edged vocals through to tin whistles, mandolin and several other instruments.
Ivo and Rafael provide both muscle and subtle guitar lines while Merlin and Kay somehow manage to keep the whole multiple of sounds and textures from running away into folk oblivion. They are the unrecognised but crucial ingredients to Eluvietie's success. No matter the tin whistles, bagpipes, fiddles and other instruments deployed to give the band it' folk metal status, it is these four who keep the sound 'true'.
Stand out tracks in the main set are 'Inception', 'Vianna' and, od course, 'Havoc' which all emphasise the maturity of the band as a unit - confident in delivery, composed on stage and as smooth in sound as a Swiss chocolatier pouring out a delicious confection. Indeed, this Swiss band's stature in their homeland and across Europe is such that Honda are now sponsoring them...
The encore was delivered with an atmospheric prologue before 'Helvetios' had the crowd rise in acclaim throughout the venue.
The tag folk metal is deceptive, as Eluvietie are at heart a metal act with added extras. The same applies to the pagan metal of Arkona and the Icelandic Viking metal ofSkálmöld.
No matter the prefix, it is still metal, and in Belfast's Mandela Hall the metal was pure and, yes, it was heavy.
Review by Jonny
Pictures by Metalplanet Belfast (more below!)
Reproduction by written permission only