That’s So Black Feathered Wound-Bird!

April 27, 2010

The Saga of Cormac the Skald, which I mentioned in my post on Icelandic awesomeness is notable for the badassery of its subjects, the beauty of its language, and many, many songs about ravens. Sample these:

The friend that I trusted has failed me
In the fight, and my hope is departed:
I speak what I know of; and note it,
Ye nobles, – I tell ye no leasing.
Lo, the raven is ready for carnage,
But rare are the friends who should succour.
Yet still let them scorn me and threaten,
I shrink not, I am not dismayed.


Of the reapers in harvest of Hilda
– Thou hast heard of it – four men and eight men
With the edges of Skrymir to aid me
I have urged to their flight from the battle.
Now the singer, the steward of Odin,
Hath smitten at last even Bersi
With the flame of the weapon that feedeth
The flocks of the carrion crows


I have smitten Toothgnasher and slain him,
And I smile at the pride of his boasting.
One more to my thirty I muster,
And, men! say ye this of the battle:
In the world not a lustier liveth
Among lords of the steed of the oar-bench;
Though by eld of my strength am I stinted
To stain the black wound-bird with blood.

The love songs are not spared:

I tell you, the goddess who glitters
With gold on the perch of the falcon,
The bride that I trusted, by beauty,
From the bield of my hand has been taken.
On the boat she makes glad in its gliding
She is gone from me, reft from me, ravished!
O shame, that we linger to save her,
Too sweet for the prey of the raven!

Nothing improves a love song like the presence of Corvidae.

Anyway, the presence of the ravens is only one instance of how hardcore the songs of the Icelandic sagas are. This led me to ask the obvious question – are there any Scandinavian metal bands which incorporate songs from the sagas into their lyrics. The natural person to ask was Rahul Raguram.

Rahul, being a cute guy, pointed me in the direction of Oakenshield and Amon Amarth. Oakenshield has in fact incorporated text from the Poetic Edda into their lyrics. At least, they claim to have done so. In their The Death of Baldr, I was hard pressed to make any lyrics out. Their name definitely takes its name from the Poetic Edda, specifically the Völuspá. And here’s a cool bit of triva – Tolkien took the name for the Dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (the one who was King Under the Mountain) from the same source. Anyhow, here’s The Death of Baldr:

Googling also turned up this delightful webpage about Norse/ Asatru/ Heathen inspired music. There is chanting, folk, and of course metal. Such joy.

But can there be true joy without ravens? No. And therefore, here’s Oakenshield again, with Twa Corbies:

You Don’t Fuck With Surtr’s Own Country

April 24, 2010

Last year, when Iceland’s Landsbanki collapsed, Great Britain invoked the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act to freeze all Icesave accounts opened by British depositors. Thus, while the British government was happy to bail out Northern Rock, it decided to give Iceland the shaft.

Perfidious Albion’s treachery was not to go unpunished for long! Six months later, Eyjafjallajokull erupted; and shut down European airspace. In what seems like divine justice, the United Kingdom was worst affected. British airports opened after six days of being shut down, well after continental Europe and Ireland.

If it is in fact divine justice, the divinity responsible is probably Surtr, the Norse fire-demon who is inspired by Icelandic volcanic activity. But even if you wish to stick with a rationalist view that does not rely on gods, demons or others, the English made a terrible mistake when they decided to screw Iceland, a country that is legendarily badass, as we can see in the old Icelandic sagas.

The Saga of Cormac the Skald, for instance, has this description of what Cormac did when someone showed insufficient politeness when offering him a black pudding:

Now, in the autumn, Narfi’s work it was to slaughter the sheep. Once, when Cormac came to Tunga, he saw Steingerd in the kitchen. Narfi stood by the kettle, and when they had finished the boiling, he took up a black-pudding and thrust it under Cormac’s nose, crying:

“Cormac, how would ye relish one?
Kettle-worms I call them.”

And in the evening when Cormac made ready to go home he saw Narfi, and bethought him of those churlish words. “I think, Narfi,” said he, “I am more like to knock thee down, than thou to rule my coming and going.” And with that struck him an axe- hammer-blow…

That’s right, he hit Narfi with an axe-hammer-blow for dissing a sausage. When vengeance is involved, things get even worse, as we see in Egil’s Saga:

Kveldulf had in his hand a battle-axe; but when he got on board, he bade his men go along the outer way by the gunwale and cut the tent from its forks, while he himself rushed aft to the stern-castle. And it is said that he then had a fit of shape-strength, as had also several of his comrades. They slew all that came in their way, the same did Skallagrim where he boarded the ship; nor did father and son stay hands till the ship was cleared. When Kveldulf came aft to the stern-castle, he brandished high his battle-axe, and smote Hallvard right through helm and head, so that the axe sank in even to the shaft; then he snatched it back towards him so forcibly that he whirled Hallvard aloft, and slung him overboard. Skallagrim cleared the forecastle, slaying Sigtrygg. Many men plunged into the sea; but Skallagrim’s men took one of the boats, and rowed after and slew all that were swimming.

They didn’t kill everyone. They kept a couple of people alive to go back to the king with this song:

‘For a noble warrior slain
Vengeance now on king is ta’en:
Wolf and eagle tread as prey
Princes born to sovereign sway.
Hallvard’s body cloven through
Headlong in the billows flew;
Wounds of wight once swift to fare
Swooping vulture’s beak doth tear.’

You get the picture. The impression conveyed is that when the Bride told Sofie Fatale that she was allowing her to keep her wicked life, she was merely scratching the surface of threatening messages.

With heritage like this, volcanic eruptions are only the beginning. When the British treated the Icelanders like terrorists, perhaps they did not realise that this could become a self-fulfilling epithet. With their economy in shambles, the Icelanders may now turn to the way of their forefathers and return to setting out in longboats and go a-viking on the British coast. Taking the names of Thor and Tyr, their depredations shall make Brown and Darling pay. Lindisfarne!