For anyone who heard their self-released debut Of Oak and Iron in 2010, Stonehaven is probably a name you noted with . Raw, primal black metal from Kansas, these guys managed to capture
Now they’re back with Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes, a sophomore album that’s every bit as intriguing as its name. The title, I learnt, is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the chapter titles of Icelandic Sagas, and contains two kennings (figures of speech); “old-strife” (historical woes) and “man-banes” (swords, of course). The album aims to capture in musical form the atrocities and horrors of old-world Europe. With the band’s devotion to the path of Norse Heathenism, the album’s themes and lyrics display an authority and atmosphere that is often lacking in outside interpretations of this period.
But Dark Medieval Times this is not. There are no quiet musing on the nature of the soul here. Stonehaven bombard the listener with the intensity and brutality of battle. While many of the songs could be described as “mid-paced”, they use speed and harmony to great effect, pulling you through each song just when your attention starts to lag. “Suffering the Swine Array” – the opener and one of my favorite tracks from the album – demonstrates their skill with composition.
Their songwriting revolves around a simple structure – a slow opening, gradually layering atmosphere and building tension until the full might of the song unleashes, like an army descending unrelentlessly upon an innocent village, raping and pillaging their way to riches and oblivion. With fantastic tracks like “Of the White Fall and Frozen Walls”, and “Cutting the Necks of the Upstarts”, the formula doesn’t feel tired, although I do find myself wishing the slower passages would hurry up. I want to get to the riffs – those primal, bone-crunching riffs.
For black metal, the drumming in Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes is quite subdued, and lower in the mix than you’d expect, though the bass drums still have that satisfying “wet cement” sound you expect from decent black metal.Stonehaven are all about the riffs – intense, layered and intricately melodic, they portray a terrifying world of religious fervor, bloodshed and mayhem. The raw, primal tones of these repetitive riffs and the smoky, rasping vocals bring out the best of this talented US band.
A Word About the cover art (since it’s quite rad) – was crafted by the band’s own Caleb May and depicts late 10th century King Olaf Trygvason of Norway and his men at the Godey Isles, torturing Raud the Strong. According to text, Raud was a priest of the local Scandinavian pagan religion, and had refused to convert to Christianity at the point of King Olaf’s sword. Seizing him from his bed at night, they dragged him outside, where Raud refused conversion once more. The king decided he should die the worst of ways publicly to set an example. Thus, Raud was held down and after many attempts — including the use of a drinking horn and hot poker — he was forced to swallow a snake.