Ulvedharr – Swords of Midgard

One curious thing from bands we’ve seen from Italy is a strange tendency to consume foreign culture for image purposes.  We almost got in trouble once in an old review of a band from a northern region of the country that utilized images of a forgotten tribe, but which to 99% of their audience appeared to be an odd bent on Celtic mythology.  Decent tunes, but the image was lost because other than the five people who lived in the region who knew anything about it, the rest of the world didn’t so it seemed like appropriation.  They later learned to explain themselves better.  Here, however, we find exactly what we assume at face value, unless the band has something to say about it and we again look like uneducated idiots in the ways of forgotten tribes.  Ulvedharr are from Italy, in a region that had contact with the Franks and Lombards, but appears to have had little contact with the Vikings, in spite of the fact that these guys base the majority of their work on Viking imagery.  Hell they even look largely the part in live photos, and they use Mjollnir as part of their logo, which you can clearly see in the album art at left.  The question of whether or not that’s a good idea we’ll get to in a bit, but first let’s delve into a basic understand of what Swords of Midgard sounds like before we delve into the imagery it utilizes.


Swords of Midgard delivers a sound unlike you’d expect.  At first glance the image is clear, and yes, we’ll get to that, but the point for this particular part of our discussion is it sets the listener up with certain expectations.  Those expectations are, in fact, delivered rather easily, but not with folk elements.  Ulvedharr instead play a classic style of death/thrash in the vein of bands like Entombed, Vomitory, and others of their ilk.  The majority of their chords rely on catching the listener with expected hooks, which they toss out readily.  Good thing is that each song has a unique sound to it, just not unique in the sense that you haven’t heard it before, unique in the sense that it sounds different than the rest of the tracks on the same album, featuring excellent, mid-range production with everything flowing nicely together.  Nothing dominates anything else, and that’s a plus.  In addition, in some of the later tracks such as “Onward to Valhalla,” Ulvedharr strays from the usual vocals and includes war cries to deviate from the expected roars and occasional screams.  It adds a nice level of variety to the selection on Swords of Midgard that helps to further differentiate between tracks.  This occurs several times, and it’s a welcome nicety to experience.


However, it must be stated that Ulvedharr does nothing unusual in this release.  For something of the death/thrash variety, it does exactly what it needs to, nothing fancy, nothing entirely unexpected other than some of the vocal delivery, and that in itself is only a single element of the entire release.  So, musically speaking, this one is no better than a 4/5, easy.  In fact that’s probably asking too much of it.  However, the other issue that must be mentioned is the image.  Ulvedharr, at first glance, seem as Viking as it can get.  But as far as we can tell, they’re completely removed from this and have no roots in the actual culture, so it’s equivalent to someone in Japan starting a folk metal band based on an American Indian tribe (choose whichever one you fancy).  This brings up the age old question of appropriation of culture.  In this case it just appears nonsensical, though”the Viking” is a classic metal image.  But in this age of cultures combining and merging via the internet, some things can only really exist in separation, otherwise it becomes nothing more than a costume show of sorts.  Ulvedharr delivers the sound, but it’s not a new sound, and it’s covered in an image with no native connection.


Editor’s note: For the reader, one of the members of the band fully explained themselves in regards to the symbolism. However, our given score will stand because, as noted earlier, if this sort of thing isn’t sufficiently explained, the idea will become wholly lost and misinterpreted.  As expected, there was some obscure bit of history to learn, and here it is.  This is directly from the band, word for word with some minor errors corrected: “So, we understand why you ask at yourself why we talking about Vikings, and the reason is because we come from extremely North of Italy, from a place called Berghem. The real name of Berghem is “Bergheim,” and was founded by Skånelansar, from Sweden. We have Swedish words a lot in our dialect, and it’s on the border with another region colonized thousand years ago by Tzimbarn, from Denmark and they talk , even today, an half German/Danish language. We would to thank you very much for your review, don’t worry, I just  wanted to explain why we had choose to talk about our Northern origin, and my surname is Arklund.”


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Written by Stanley Stepanic

Ulvedharr – Swords of Midgard
Moonlight Records
3.5 / 5