OAKENSHIELD is a one-man British Viking/pagan metal project led by Ben Corkhill. Gylfaginning, the debut and first concept album from this multi-talented artist, is based on Norse paganism/mythology. The Gylfaginning deals with the creation [Ginnungagap] and destruction [Ragnarok] of the world of the Norse gods, and many other aspects of Norse mythology. Gylfaginning is the first part of Snorre Sturlason's Prose Edda after Prologue. The Prose Edda is an Icelandic collection of poems containing many stories from Norse mythology. The work was written by the Icelandic scholar and historian Snorre Sturlason around 1220. Apart from session violin work by Gareth Evans, Ben Corkhill handles all instruments, vocals, programming and even production duties. One has to admire Ben’s devotion to Old Norse mythology and his ability to create vast heroic and epic compositions. Being in a one-man band, however, introduces some clear disadvantages. OAKENSHIELD’s main disadvantage is the horrendous sounding programmed drums. Truthfully, the drum work has never been considered as a vital part of folk/Viking metal, but when they are as predictable as the sun rising in the morning, I raise my eyebrows. Plastic doesn’t always equal fantastic and for the next OAKENSHIELD release I would recommend to hire in a good session drummer to get rid of that boring and synthetic feel in the drum department.

Another disadvantage, though not as big as the programmed drums issue, is the rather flat sounding production. Ben is obviously a novice when it comes to producing and mixing as he’s a musician by all means, and not a technician. However, I’m not attacking Ben here, as there’s always issues of cost and competent personnel. Musically, there’s no doubt that the music is truly from Ben’s heart. His lengthy folk-tinged heavy metal anthems matches the epic work of MITHOTYN, FALKENBACH, FOREFATHER, BATHORY and many more. “The Aesir” is a masterly written “instrumental” (some epic choir singing is present), which is structured around very effective progressive arrangements and accompanied by epic keyboard fills, adding flavour and depth. Tight guitars shred their way through each song of beauty. Gylfaginning is truly a prime example of bombastic Viking metal.

Ultimately, Gylfaginning by OAKENSHIELD is a classic must have for all fans of battle/war/folk/Viking/pagan metal. While Ben’s black metal style rasping vocals will deter many non-believers from checking this opus out, the multi-layered clean sounding vocals in addition to the severely melodic compositions will send shivers down the spine of any heathen. The CD comes in a jewel case with matching artwork and booklet design. The lyrics, which also include verses from the Poetic Edda, are of course included for your enjoyment.