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Although their very fine debut, 1997's Sóknardalr, had already shown a remarkable creative vision and no lack of songwriting maturity, Windir's second album, 1998's Arntor, took advantage of lessons learned and much improved production standards to take the group's folk-laden black metal to a whole new level. Setting standards that would hereafter be emulated by numerous extreme metal bands attuned to their native musical traditions (e.g. Romania's Negura Bunget and the Ukraine's Drudkh), Arntor was arguably the shot heard 'round the world, as it were -- only that world happened to be the relatively small, reclusive, and tight-knit world of black metal. Nevertheless, the metal-free, accordion-ruled "Byrjing" (The Beginning) and conversely black metal-loaded "Ending" provided suitably opposed bookends, spanning the breadth of what lay between -- much of it as groundbreaking as it was astonishingly easy to absorb. Perhaps it's best to begin by describing epic-length album centerpieces "Svartesmeden Og Lundamyrstrollet" (The Blacksmith and the Troll of Lundamyri) and "Saknet" (The Longing), since they really have it all: multiple passages of varying intensity and tempos ranging from blastbeat to polka; equally effective croaked and sung vocals; faux-symphonic orchestrations serving as backdrops as well as dominating showpieces; and energized, memorably sinuous folk melodies that pierce and hold everything together. In other words, this tandem more than justifies its unwieldy girth, while allowing shorter efforts like "Arntor, ein Windir" (Arntor, a Warrior) and "Kong Hydnes Haug" (The Burial Mound of King Hydnes) to focus on a smaller survey of Windir's sound components at a time (marching guitar chords and eerie synth lines, for example), without the need for a kitchen sink thrown in. And, for those who still feel inclined to stuff all of the above, eclectic or not, into a certain formulaic box, Windir also provide a few oddities like "Kampen" (The Struggle), which conspicuously interrupts its black/folk portions with avant-garde staccato riffs indicative of Enslaved's future works. In short, this album's importance in the grand scheme of Scandinavian heavy metal is difficult to overstate, and if Sweden's Bathory were responsible for introducing the Viking metal concept to begin with, then the watershed Arntor gave Windir a strong case as heirs to their throne, by showing the way forward for the genre's future disciples.

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