By Jonathon Besanko
At a glance, the cover to Vredens Tid, the fourth studio album from Swedish Viking metallers Månegarm (released 2005; with the cover art designed by Kris Verwimp), seems fairly standard fare for a Nordic-themed metal band. And you wouldn’t be wrong. However, what does differentiate this album from its many peers is what the stark imagery implies and how it isn’t so simply a portrait of Scandinavian trolls attacking a stave church on the border of a wood.
Vredens Tid, which means ‘Age of Wrath’ in Swedish, is a fitting title for the imagery conveyed on the album cover art. It is a title as ambiguous as the enraged figures printed over its warm tones. Yet it is also something that seems very apt for the message it is carrying across. Simply put, the imagery of Vredens Tid is indicative of the mindset of the individual Norseman during the Christianisation of Sweden and the bordering Scandinavian realms during the 8th – 12th centuries. It is more an artistic interpretation of the Nordic spirit opposing forced foreign religious practices on their land. Where the stave churches promoted this new religious institution labeled ‘Christianity’ in the Scandinavian areas, the Norsemen, who didn’t hold a specific name for their cultural indoctrinated beliefs, were left largely feeling helpless as their own gods and their culturalistic belief systems were forced out and demonized.
It is here where the notion of the sole troll in the cover art comes in. Like the sole Norseman battling against his perceived oppression, the jötunn is ravaging the church and fighting back against this cultural invasion. What is also interesting to note is the priest figure that stands in the lower left corner. Again, depicted ambiguously, the priest can be interpreted either one of two ways: the first is a figure praying for salvation from this monstrous entity that has appeared and attacked the church; and the other, a holy man who is not raising his hands and crucifix to the heavens for deliverance, but rather to smite what medieval Christians would have perceived to be a demon. This cross-cultural correlation is quite a fascinating addition to the cover art and adds a much-needed layer of non-bias to the piece. As it can be interpreted in different ways, it depicts also (perhaps in a more subtle sense) how not everyone who converted to Christianity at the time did so against their will.
To return to the imagery of the troll, what’s interesting in how it’s depicted is that at first impression, given its hammered-fist over the church spire, it could easily be taken as the “angered” forced hinted at in the album’s title. However, as mentioned earlier, ‘Age of Wrath’ is something that can be taken in a few different ways. Where the automatic thinking is to go firstly to the enraged Norsemen – those who despise this cultural bastardization, as many undoubtedly would have seen it – you can also think of the Age of Wrath as a more general title. What is meant by this is that instead of utter abhorrence, it could even be taken to mean a confused or melancholic anger. One where the stricken party is angered due to a sadness they have taken to, perceiving their history as being removed or denigrated. If you look at the face of the troll, it doesn’t appear furious, it appears sorrowful. It’s leering down at the frightened individuals escaping the church with a frustrated despair; as if this land it once cherished has been ripped from it like a newborn child from a mother’s arms. All the while, in the background, the village burns. This is again indicative of the cultural destruction of a people whose history extends far back and who perceived their folklore as being shoved aside.
The troll here represents the defiant spirit of the Nordic peoples. One which will not tread so quietly and idly accept a foreign religious stance.
Vredens Tid was the first album I ever heard from Månegarm and it is one that has stayed with me for many years now. From its powerful imagery in the artwork, then to the venom spat in the vocals and to the melodious overtures, it is a varied and emotionally charged record. One which I’d recommend to anyone to escape with and dive into. It’s quite the history lesson.
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