There's something about the Viking heritage that makes every bit of music that plays off it seem larger than life. No matter the genre, songs about the ancient warriors give songs a grander scope, a larger vision, the kind of epic scale that can sometimes make us forget exactly what we're listening to. I rarely doubt the sincerity of artists, but there are surely bands on the scene that know the effect that can be gleaned from a gimmick like this. Nothing can turn a second-rate death metal band into a force garnering worldwide attention faster than a schtick, a motif that separates them from the others and gives them an easily quantifiable identity. It works for bands like Nile, so who's to say how many others fake their way to success?
I don't say this to denigrate or accuse King Of Asgard, but merely to iterate a point I think needs to be stated, namely that it's easy to get caught up in the aura of music without really listening to what's going on. “The Nine Worlds Burn” is a perfect example of this concept, a song that takes the mystique that begins with the back story and cover art, and sounds for all the world like a monster of a death metal track. But, when the facade is stripped away, it no longer seems to be what it was on first blush. The main riff is still a catchy bit of fretwork, but the tremolo riffs through the verses, and the mid-range growls are as textbook as it comes. It's blackened death metal by the numbers, the kind of music that would struggle to get a second look if left to its own devices.
“The Dispossessed” doesn't differ much in form, but more effectively constructs itself from the basic tenets. The riffs are still standard fare, but are coupled with a guitar melody that gives the song some character beyond the usual aural assault. “Gap Of Ginnungs” strays a bit from the formula, with a slower tempo, a steady march forward into what tries to be a melodic chorus. The choral vocals backing up the growls is certainly stands out, even if it isn't a stand-out.
And therin lies the problem I have with “... to North”. There's not much to complain about as far as the execution goes, but there's also nothing to make note of. The guitar work spends most of the album playing the same riffs we've been hearing ever since death and black metal solidified themselves into their modern forms, while vocalist Karl Bekcman's growls are perfectly fine, but lack the kind of tone or personality that would make him discernible from every other harsh vocalist in the world.
The other issue is that for the skill the members of the band show with regards to performing their music, they don't show a similar affinity for songwriting. Too often they get bogged down in the convention of black metal, stringing one ringing riff after another, confusing a lack of palm muting with melody. The compositions rarely feel like fully realized songs, instead coming across as guitar exercises that later had vocals added on top of them.
There are exceptions to that, best evidenced by “Bound To Reunite”, which does spend too much time dealing with clichéd black metal riffs, but works in a few more digestible bursts of six-string heaviness, all drawn together with the best chorus on the album. Songs like this are proof of what melodic death metal can be, drawing on both the Viking tradition as well as the tradition of the genre, melding them together in a way that brings out the best of both worlds. If there had been a few more songs of this nature and quality, “... to North” would be a much more effective album. As it sits, King Of Asgard falls into the category of bands that are good at what they do, but still have lessons to learn and room to grow.