Rebellion - Sagas of Iceland: The history of the vikings volume I 4/5

Reviewed: 9-9-05


1. In memorandum lindisfarnae
2. Ynglinga saga (to Odin we call)
3. The sons of the dragon slayer (blood eagle)
4. Ragnhild's dream
5. Harald harfager
6. Eric the red
7. Freedom (the saga of Gang Hrolf)
8. Treason
9. Sword in the storm (the saga of Earl Hakon, protector of Norway)
10. Blood rains (the saga of King Olaf Trygvason)
11. Ruling the waves
12. Canute the great (the king of Danish pride)
13. Harald Hadrade

Wow! I can't believe that I almost gave up on Rebellion on the cusp of their crowning achievement. Featuring a lineup studded with minor luminaries of the German traditional metal scene, including former members of Grave Digger, Warhead, Xiron and Black Destiny, Rebellion made quite a splash with their 2002 debut, 'Shakespeare's Macbeth: A tragedy in steel', sounding much like mid-paced Grave Digger with extensive dramatic narration to boot. But the 2003 follow-up, 'Born a rebel', fell flat, suffering from listless, uninspired songs and some of the most boring, tepid riffs ever laid to tape. Against my better judgment, I picked up a copy of their new 'Sagas of Iceland' opus, based on the cool 3D holographic cover art as well as an abiding intuition that the return to a concept album would augur a return to form for the Teutonic veterans. I was more right than I could ever have hoped.

Lyrically, this CD delves deeply into the history of the Vikings, drawing heavily from a "collection of sagas" called the Heimskringla of Snorri Sturlson as source material. Essentially, we have a series of sagas, many of them devoted to telling the story of a particular famous (infamous?) viking leader, from well known warriors like Eric the Red to more obscure Norwegian kings like Harald Harfager. The lyrics are detailed, compelling and informative, chronicling the great deeds and exploits of this fascinating seafaring people. Extensive liner notes in both German and English help the reader glean the historical context of the expertly executed storytelling. Master lyricist/bassist Tomi Gottlich obviously did his homework, seemingly amassing a dissertation's worth of information in the course of his research.

Of course, the coolest lyrical concept in the world could not have rescued the abysmally weak music on 'Born a rebel'. Fortunately, Rebellion have dramatically upgraded their songwriting and individual performances this time around. Musically, this is staunch, uncompromisingly pure and epic Teutonic steel, like Grave Digger circa 'Knights of the cross' or 'Excalibur'. Nearly every song sports a catchy, fist-in-the-air chorus. Most importantly, every song has its own identity, thanks to the band's newfound attention to pacing and varying up the tempos. Witness the one-two assault of the brooding slow-build epic "Ynglinga saga" as it segues into the frenzied double-bass of "The sons of the dragon slayer", perhaps the finest song Rebellion have ever written. Special mention goes to vocalist Michael Seifert, who continues to have an uncanny resemblance to renowned Delaware police officer Matt Barlow (in full Paul Stanley mode), but has gained more control over his voice over the years. This is easily Seifert's finest performance to date, as he channels Barlow, Dark at Dawn's Buddy Kohlrausch (in the gruff passages) and even X-Wild's Frank Knight (in the quiet, haunting, whispery parts), while curtailing the shrill quality that sometimes hampered his voice in the past. And those who may have been turned off by the (over)use of a narrator on Rebellion's 'Shakespeare's Macbeth' CD can rest easy here, because there is only one spoken-word narrator passage in the 63 minute running time.

When the final drakkar has docked at port, it is astonishingly clear that Rebellion have delivered the comeback CD of the year, and one of the better CDs in the stout, traditional German style in recent memory. Let me put it this way: 'Sagas of Iceland' does not match, but it does approach, the rarefied air occupied by the magnificent Grave Digger classics, 'Tunes of war' and 'Knights of the cross'. This CD annihilates the post-Lulis Grave Digger output. Fans of Chris Boltendahl's outfit, the 'Shakespeare's Macbeth' release, or well executed concept albums in general should run, not walk, to the nearest purveyor of fine metal CDs and buy this one without delay. Now, how long do we have wait for Rebellion to unleash 'Volume II'?




MAIN - A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z - MISC