Reviewed: August 2021
Released: 2021, Black Harbour Entertainment
It is no secret that the Heavy Metal business has been evolving down into a massive global cottage industry. Hundreds of bands run their own labels, recording studios, record and produce their own albums, create merchandise and then tour. The traditional revenue streams are almost dead and have been for a long time. Bands look for new ways to make a living and that includes heavy merchandising. I won’t go into that discussion if that is good or bad. It exists and books are increasingly a great way for bands to make money by writing their own story, printing it and selling it. Skalmold recognizes this.
THE SAGA OF SKLAMOLD-THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY is an utterly gorgeous book to look at. It has very nice, thick paper, bright colours and the layout and design are top-notch. The book has all the extra features you could want. An introduction by McIver, a full discography, a list of every show the band has played to date, two afterwords and individual band member profiles so you get a better feel of who you are reading about. As a testament to the strength of the Icelandic arts community, and perhaps size of the nation, the Foreword is written by G. Johannesson, the president of Iceland. No small feat! The visuals are lush, full colour, high quality photos scattered all across the book. It is much a visual history as it is a biography.
The book is divided into five main sections one per each of the studio albums to date. Each album has the full lyrics printed in both the original language and in English. This is a nice touch and is very handy because there is a very interesting sub-section called ‘Words Of Power’ (Manowar reference?) where lyricist, Snaebjorn ‘Bibbi” Ragnarsson explains in some detail how he follows the ancient poetic traditions of the dead language to create that sense of authenticity. The wordplay is marvellous and for those who care to take a deep dive, you can observe and recognize these subtle techniques across the lyrics. Perhaps tied to this point is my only very minor complaint. The book seems a bit short. It is about 200 pages along but about 100 of those are the lyrics being re-printed. So if you strip away all the extra features the actual pure text, talking about the band might be about 75 pages long. I am not in any way implying the book has filler, the exact opposite, it is all the extra stuff that makes the saga come alive, but it seems the bands did a series of interviews and let the reader know just as much as they wanted to. You will not find extended tales of tour debauchery here, but they are not that sort of a band.
The saga begins with al the various members in various bands and in various stages of their careers, scattered across the country, doing their own thing. However, because of the size of the nation they all sort of knew each other or had heard of the others at the very least, until it all fell into place rather organically and rapidly. Suddenly they were a band and not shortly after that, signed to a label, touring and before they themselves even realized it, they were a big deal, in terms of a small sub-genre of an underground music to begin with. What struck me across the interviews was a lack of pretension or arguing or the standard ‘band drama’. These vikings are all pulling the oars in the same direction, having fun and not worrying too much about it all. If anything they may worry about how to handle success, and in some cases unwanted success, so quickly. The saga will continue but the band decided to take a break at a point that felt natural to them. The fact that this planned shore-leave coincided with a global pandemic adds a nice symmetry to the tale. They are a fascinating and unique band and the series of interviews give us an insight into them.
Does Skalmold, an admittedly obscure band, so early in their career really ‘need’ or even deserve a book? Well, maybe not but who am I to say? I think they do and it is an amazing book. However, I’ve excitedly mentioned to a few Metal people (colleagues and friends) that I’ve just got the new book about Skalmold and invariably they say, ‘Who’? However, this book is not for them. It is precisely targeted to a few die-hard Skalmold fans alone unlike, for example, a big name ‘Rock Star’ autobiography about his fishing hobby for example.
This is niche publishing, hell maybe even micro-niche publishing at its finest. I’ll bet there were only a very few copies printed and it will instantly sell out and become this really cool rarity. The fact that Joel McIver master biographer (Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer) extraordinaire, who at this point in his career probably has the luxury of turning down book offers, choose to work with an obscure Folk-Metal band from Iceland tells you this is something really special. There are countless cool, fun, unique and interesting stories of the multitude of bands scattered across the apocalyptic Metal Wasteland, but truth be told those stories will not be told unless the bands, like Skalmold did, make the effort. It is worth it.
Is publishing your own book about making money as I suggested earlier? That could be a small part of it but the chronicling of the saga (hence the book title) is just as, or perhaps even more important. THE SAGA OF SKALMOLD is a special book and an important historical document about this unique and important band. Ykkar Skal!