he Vikings were an interesting breed. They were vicious, bloodthirsty warriors who glorified slaughter, brutal killers who lived from one battle to another. But they also put a great emphasis on death and the afterlife and looked forward to eternal battles in Valhalla. This mixture of vicious power and fatalistic sorrow can be heard in the music of local sextet Winterhymn.
If you haven’t heard of Winterhymn, don’t worry — they’ve only been around since February of 2010. The band, consisting of Ulfr (guitar and vocals), Draug (guitar and backing vocals), Warg (bass), Sieven (drums), Umbriel (violin) and Exura (keyboards), burst onto the Cincinnati music scene with no warning. Winterhymn started when Ulfr and Draug met upon the snowy plains of the Northern Kentucky University campus (school mascot: Victor the Viking). Sieven was next to join the group, followed by Umbriel and Exura. Warg was last to join.
“We were able to find a violinist and a keyboard player before a bass player, which we thought was kind of ridiculous,” Draug says.
Many fans know that Winterhymn won a battle of the bands at Covington club The Mad Hatter, but what they might not know is that it was the band’s first show. Ever.
“We definitely had no intention of winning (the) battle of the bands; we entered it strictly to get some experience for some people,” Sieven says.
Entering a band battle right away and winning the whole thing is impressive by any measure, but Winterhymn has taken several steps to keep that unlikely success rolling.
When looking at the band, you’ll quickly notice their attire, which is heavy on leather, furs and sharp ornamentation. The group’s sound, known as Folk Metal, has a huge following in Europe and is gaining traction in the States. The genre mixes typical Metal elements, namely razor-sharp drumming, shredding guitars and gravelly vocals, with more symphonic elements.
Exura and Umbriel cover said symphonic rhythms while the boys carry the low end. The symphonic melodies often keep the beat, allowing for the bass and drums to work with the guitars, leading to an extremely heavy sound. While some Metal fans might scoff at the inclusion of decidedly non-Metal instruments; they add a layer of complexity to the band’s overarching sound that can’t be ignored.
Winterhymn’s accessibility is furthered by the inclusion of many different Metal sub-genres. An astute listener can hear elements of everything from Black Metal to Hardcore. This mixture wasn’t forced, according to Draug.
“It kind of happened naturally because we were all brought together by Folk Metal,” he says. “But then each of us has our own musical preferences. Some of those aspects are what give our Folk Metal a more American sound than European bands.”
The lyrics often carry Folk Metal themes, with songs about battles, glory, drinking and wenches. The Vikings would most definitely approve.
What should a young band do with a fresh sound and a recent band-battle victory under its belt? Record its first album, of course. Part of the band’s winnings included three days of recording time and a $2,500 grant, used for even more recording time. For some members of the band (Draug) the process was long and intricate. For others (Ulfr and Warg) the process involved lots of videogames. The band did find time in between Super Smash Bros. matches to get a lot of other work done, however. Exura was especially busy during the downtime.
“Exura is the MVP of this band. She’s done every single bit of artwork, every graphic design; she built a website from scratch and designed every T-shirt,” Warg says.
This drive to improve the band isn’t exclusive to Winterhymn’s resident spear-thrower and ivory-tickler. For example, after the band’s interview, they quickly got to work, sending emails and making phone calls local promoters. Each member has put in their fair share of blood, sweat and tears into the band, and their pocket books are taking quite the thrashing as well.
“We’re not afraid to fund ourselves,” Ulfr says.
“There’s roughly eight to 10 grand wrapped up in this whole thing,” Sieven says.
Winterhymn is determined to make it and is ready and willing to fund the war effort to achieve that goal.
It’s rare for a band in Cincinnati’s Metal scene to make a splash quite as big as Winterhymn’s, especially after only a handful of live appearances. But, then again, not many bands have the singular vision of Winterhymn. The sextet has its goals in sight and is determined to slay any obstacles in their path.
“We’re looking at making this a career,” Sieven says. “We’re trying to make it and we’ll do everything in our power to.”
That kind of drive, the drive to succeed no matter the cost, is the kind of stuff that even the Vikings would raise their horns of mead to.
Winterhymn (www.winterhymn.net)releases Songs for the Slain on Saturday, Oct. 8 at Radiodown in Covington. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.