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With so many heavy metal and progressive rock bands called Asgard out there (at least ten so-named acts have produced recordings since the early 1970s), Belarus quartet Asguard's erroneous spelling seems more like a brilliant idea than a faux pas. Equally worthy of distinction is the group's unusual fusion of extreme metal's various subgenres, which, although black and death metal dominant throughout typical tracks "The Vision of Dream" and the two-part "The Black Wandering of Death" (which combine scratch-throated voices and cold guitars with Behemoth-like percussive precision) frequently detour into unexpected side alleys. First and foremost, there's a certain retro feel reminiscent of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal pervading many of the songs featured here, as well as the band's cover of Judas Priest's "Leather Rebel"; and, thanks to lead guitarist Andrey Tselobenok's six-string wizardry, Wikka's introductory instrumental title track boasts a neo-classical lesson straight out of the Yngwie Malmsteen school. If only one had a clue as to which songs were which, since, to go with main man Alexander Afonchenko's mostly unintelligible vocals, the This Dark Reign reissue of Wikka frustratingly messes up the track listing, and fails to name any of the six bonus extras and demos. This gripe aside, Asguard's music speaks for itself (and if you like a little mystery with your metal -- hey, all the better!) and is sure to interest fans of unusual heavy metal born of exotic locations.

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