"Can I get a Skull Splitter?" the Norse Law frontman asks the bartender. Ice favors drinks as violent as his lyrics, but he's disappointed to learn his brew isn't available here. As the founder and MC of a Viking rap group with black metal overtones, Ice is well accustomed to folks not getting with his tastes. And so far, Clevelanders have not exactly drunk up the charms of three white boys singing black music in medieval Nordic attire. Who knew?
Not us, because frankly, Norse Law is the finest Viking-steeped, metal-mad hip-hop troupe going these days. Sure, their battle axes, corpse paint, and shout-outs to Odin are pretty goofy, but their playing is no laughing matter. Valhalla Ice barks out rhymes like a fiercer Neil Fallon of Clutch. Guitarist-vocalist Ragnar contributes blazing Euro-metal leads and death-metal growls, evoking a grizzly bear with indigestion. MC Smoke, with his b-boy 'tude, is a ghetto Leif Eriksson. It's a recipe that's equally ripe to amuse and annoy. Picture an urban Unleashed. Or a rap Running Wild.
"Have you ever seen a Viking get down? Slammin' and jammin' to a new sweet sound," Ice bellows on the band's debut, Defenders of Valhalla (available at www.norselaw.com). Then the group breaks into chants of "Go Viking! Go Viking, go!" Makes you wonder how much time these dudes spent playing around power lines as youngsters.
"It all goes back to when I was 12 years old," Ice says, tracing the origin of Norse Law. "I was confronted by visions of rape and war given to me by the All-Father Odin. Ever since then, my goal in life has been to die in battle, surrounded by the bloodied and mangled carcasses of my enemies."
"I was really into the northern European metal scene, and I pretty much hate most rap music, so I said, 'Why not try and bring some of my influences to rap and have these people pick up on some of the stuff I like?'" Ice says.
But since forming last year, Norse Law has been more frequently picked on than picked up on.
"We played the Zephyr, and they kicked us out after two songs," Ice says with a sigh, recalling the aborted Kent gig. "I've seen shows at those places where they just have a lesbian up there playing a flute, and they're gonna say that's more artistic than what we're doing?"
Indeed, Norse Law's act is often dismissed as gimmickry. It's the reason few mainstream acts would take a chance on them as openers and why few underground clubs are willing to risk their hipster cred by booking them. Gigs at clubs like the Agora, Hi-Fi, and the Revolution are typically met with confused looks (in an opening show for Monster Magnet, the Peabody's crowd made no discernible sound) or outright contempt (see Zephyr).
Hip-hop critics insist the band's Viking theme is racist, as if 11th-century explorers watched Jerry Springer and flew Dixie flags from their ships. But if the band is prejudiced, it's more likely against polite sensibilities. "I'm killin' brain cells like a cancerous tumor," goes one puff from Smoke. "Wanna fuck with us, bitch? You're gonna die sooner/Keep talkin' shit about the Vikings you saw/I'm gonna reach back and break your jaw."
For all its Scandinavian shout-outs, the Norse Law experience is grounded in headbanging metal, a genre whose fans are utterly incapable of taking a joke. (For proof, we offer the mounds of hate mail that pours in every time we slam Manowar.) Spill your hip-hip beats upon the grounds of the trad-metal greats, and you're sure to incur the wrath of straight-faced metalheads everywhere.
"It's weird, because I have a lot of friends, and we basically listen to the Haunted, Witchery, bands like that, and I was kind of worried when I got into this, because I thought, 'What are they going to think?'" says Ragnar. "But we're going to do what we want to do, and that's it. That's what the Vikings did anyway -- they basically did whatever the hell they wanted to. That's why people don't talk about them, you know. These were the bad guys. Well good -- because we're the bad guys."
And crowds have certainly responded that way. "I've been in more brawls in the last year and a half than I ever have been in my whole life," Ice says with a sigh. "I've got my nose broken twice. It sucks."
Yes it does, because Norse Law deserves better than being dismissed as a novelty act.
"In most ways, being in this band has been the antithesis of the rock and roll experience that most people clamor for," Ice explains. "We generally play for a few people, most of whom want to kick our ass. Women I've met scoff at me and mock my gods, but I will not cease to battle for Thor."
Or at least an audience.