Reviewed: March, 2019
Released: 2019, GMR Music Group
Reviewer: James Swandale
People claim that you shouldn’t judge things by their covers, but that’s basically the entire purpose of a cover. So, judging by the cover of Bleckhorn’s first EP, Dragonfire, I was in for some Viking power/heavy metal. And, it is that… but not quite.
Bleckhorn is a project formed between Ex-HammerFall bassist Magnus Rosén and guitarist Jayce Landberg. They’re joined by Peter Hermansson on the drums and ex-Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Göran Edman stepping in to provide a great vocal backbone for the album.
In their bio, the band mention not wanting to adhere to a Viking metal image. I suppose they’ve done a good job of that, as the album contains very little traditional Viking metal other than some vague lyrics. It’s firmly a heavy metal EP with splashings of hard rock, which stumbles with a lack of clarity early on but finds footing in the later tracks.
The lyrical “Viking” theme is merely a veil. References to various Old Norse tropes appear on every track, usually in the form of the track title sung in a chorus, but the depth of the actual Norse material is severely limited. From the title, I initially thought the opening track, Dragonfire, would have something to do with the dragon depicted on the cover, presumably Jörmungandr, but when actually trying to dissect the lyrics, whatever dragon Goran Edam seems to be singing about dissipates immediately.
This makes a bit more sense as I found during my research for this album that parts of it (or perhaps unreleased material) will be used in the soundtrack of an upcoming Swedish Viking period film “Dead Man’s Mound.” Details are a bit thin on the ground, but the band themselves are definitely working on the soundtrack to this movie in some capacity.
The end of Dragonfire contains a guitar assault I’ve not heard before, and frankly hope not to again, with what seems like the opening of a solo panned back-and-forth on each side. It makes no sense and tarnishes what is an otherwise fun, if a little bland, song.
The band also needs a serious kit upgrade at this point as the drums almost sound like they’re programmed out of a box. They’re not, I’m sure they’re not, I’ve seen a picture of Hermansson behind a drum kit so it must be real. But I can’t shake the feeling that the whole first two tracks are sequenced. Gates of Valhalla is a stronger offering than Dragonfire, but the guitar remains fairly boring, occasionally throwing out more panning assault and a full guitar solo that is completely out-of-place with the rest of the song.
Fortunately, most of these criticisms are limited to the first two tracks, with the EP taking an upward turn for Land of Glory and Ragnarok. Both of these are mostly enjoyable throughout, especially as you’re finally able to hear a more of Magnus Rosén’s bass instead of synth backing. Occasional guitar abnormalities sneak in, but they don’t detract from either song as a whole. The drumming starts to feel a bit tighter and the guitar is a lot more focused. Alongside the more prominent bass I can start to feel what, hopefully, the band were originally intending.
Where in Dragonfire there was a snippet of a solo panning wildly, the use on Ragnarok is much subtler and I really like the technique on the end of this track. It has more of a layered approach instead of just blasting out some notes wildly.
Dragonfire is ultimately a slightly disappointing album. It’s not bad, though there are bad parts to it. It’s a mixed bag into which I often find my brain pulling out a few of the guitar or bass lines, which happily bounce around in my head till I’m reminded of other parts I really don’t want to hear again.
The vocals are consistently the highlight for me, though lyrically they either need to tell more of a story with the Viking theme, or cast away the pretence entirely. I firmly believe each of these musicians is better than they show on this EP, and I hope they release a full length that continues in the vein of the second half of the EP and demonstrates what they can really do.
02. Gates of Valhala
03. Land of Glory
Jayce Landberg: All guitars, keyboards & synthesizer programming
Magnus Rosén: Bass guitar
Göran Edman: Vocals
Peter Hermansson: Drums & percussion