Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Folk Metal Tribute To The End Of The World ...

Ragnarok (UK) (There are a number of bands named Ragnarok and they are distinguished by country abbreviations) is a Celtic/pagan/folk metal outfit that creates a unique sound akin to Manowar doing new age Celtic black metal ... what ...? Ya I know, what the heck does that mean. Well there is a definite Manowar influence and the folk elements which are prominent are new agey sounding with a little Dead Can Dance and Loreena Mckennit styling to really create an original musical experience. The album "Domgeorn" is their second release and one of the first extreme folk metal albums I ever bought. I'm hoping to get their first release, but it may be out of print, wish me luck though.

This album is a hard listen in that it has a lot of traditional folk style music to keep it from being a great driving album, but the black metal tunes interspersed throughout make it hard to relax to. This makes it hard to market as well. I think it's a great album, but I don't spin it that often if you know what I mean. However, it is essential for any folk metal fan to at least give it a try. Now on to the music and let me see if I can shed some light onto what the heck I've been eluding to.

"Domgeorn" starts off with a crow cawing and traditional Celtic percussion on "þe Him & Hrefnagod Gaelð". Orchestral keys and an acoustic melody accompany the baritone Gaelic (I'm not positive, so don't quote me) vocals and sets a remarkably unique mood for a metal album. We then get treated to "Wodnesuno" which is an aggressively dark black metal tune with some chilling screams and some death metally vocals for a mid-paced standard black metal tune. We then get treated to a couple more traditional folk songs "þonne Waeron We Haeleð" and "Sigorleoð" with an almost narrative feel and a realism better than a lot of actual folk musicians. It's not until after 10 minutes worth of Celtic style folk music that we get another metal tune in "Ni Fuil An Sabras Aðragad Deað" which is mid-paced with loads of orchestral melody much like Bal-Sagoth and some Manowar style soloing.

Here is where we get more into metal/folk mix. Up to this point it's been folk then metal and so on. "To
Wælhealle" is an atmospheric narrative style song with waves and battle sounds and a brooding feel much like the "Bram Stoker's Dracula" soundtrack and ends with a celtic harp lullaby outro. This leads into the metal ballad "I Hear The Mountain" which is very much like Manowars "Heart Of Steel". "Legion Of Death" brings are first real mix of folk metal which starts with celtic drum and then black metal style riffing with some clean vocals, but black metal screams. There is also viking style chorus's and Manowar like solos.

If Loreena McKennit did mid-paced black metal we'd get "Samhain" with its wonderful mix of celtic instruments and heavy guitar work; almost a power metal feel. If the Chieftans used electric guitars we'd likely get "John Barleycorn" which is very catchy and power metal like (another heavily Manowar influenced piece). "Paet Aesctreow" is doomy and death metally, and then the album ends with "Beloved Of The Raven God" which is a melodic new agey celtic song with birds and traditional Celtic style vocals both male and female. It has a Dead Can Dance sound to it.

I say the album ends with "Beloved ..." cause it bookends ends with the crow cawing, but without much delay we are treated to a black metal cover of Manowar's "Heart Of Steel" which for a while I didn't know was there, cause the album is so long I rarely got to the end. The cover, though faithful, just isn't the same, but the Celtic harp melody is nice,
Deörþ just isn't Eric Adams. The cover is quite faithful musically, very majestic and powerful, but I liken that to the original song being simply a great tune and it'd be hard to wreck it. I do think this is why there is a strong Manowar influence though.

In the end I would say "Samhain"
is my favourite because it best represents the folk/metal mix, but when I first heard "Wodnesuno" shrieks and all, it sent shivers down my spine. This is a fine album and very unique sound, but I find the traditional folk songs tend to slow the albums momentum. Towards the end of the album it's like they started to get the mix really right. Any folk music fan should atleast give Ragnarok (UK) a listen, even just for the novelty...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

They Stepped Ashore With The Thirst For Gold ...

Before Falconer, Songwriter and Guitarist Stefan Weinerhall with drummer Karsten Larsson were bandmates of Mithotyn. Stefan ( a founding member) created some fine Viking/folk metal over a period of about 7 years before creating the highly underrated folk metal band Falconer. The music is black metal with folk melodies and viking choruses. The album I'll be exploring today is their first full length release "In The Sign Of The Raven".

On this first outing, I'll admit not their best work, shows signs of well thought out songwriting and melodic metal with a strong sense of Viking appeal. Ground isn't being broken here, but Mithotyn certainly rank high in the Viking/folk metal genre. The vocals (Rickard Martinnson) are traditional black metal screech, though more airy and atmospheric along the lines of Summoning and sometimes hard to pick out from the music.

The album begins with one of my favourite tracks "Upon Raging Waves" which starts with wave sounds and a sweet acoustic intro and moves into a rhythmic melodic folky metal tune. Quite catchy. We are then blasted with the title track "In The Sign Of The Raven" with its bullet like drum work and fast riffing. "Shadows Of The Past" and "Embraced By Frost" are both speedy melodic folk inspired tunes with the later taking on some death metal stylings. "In The Forest Of Moonlight" is fast also with very nice solo guitar work and very traditional sound, only metal and "Freezing Storms Of Snow" is a full on blizzard of music, both aggressive and melodic.

The traditional folk heavy songs are "Tills Dagen Gryr" and the album closer "Let Thy Ale Swing". "Tills ..." is traditional with clean baritone vocals and keyboard and simple drum accompaniment. "Stories Carved In Stone" and "Where My Spirit Forever Shall Be" are folk heavy mid paced black metal tunes with "Stones ..." having death metal tendencies and "Where My Spirit ... " with its orchestral opening carries a majestic power metal feel.

Though I like this album a lot, and they only get better on future releases, the song that I repeat listen to is "Lost In The Mist". The song is an acoustic traditional tune which eventually mixes with electric guitars and creates a fine folk metal mix. The song is instrumental barring some viking style choral work, but it is ridiculously catchy.

The copies of Mithotyn albums I got are re-releases with different covers (I'd much prefer the originals, but what can you do?) but I find the production quality here to not be at its best. The music is great, but the vocals could be mixed better. A minor critique. Mithotyn are fantastic and feature strong songwriting and melodic, catchy black metal style music. The expert crafting is carried over to Falconer (which will be reviewed at a later date). However, before I get to some Christian folk metal, I'm going to slip in a review of a pagan/folk metal band Ragnarok (UK) who I almost forgot about, but cannot be missed. They are truly unique ...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

By The Might Of The Gods …

Asmegin is a Norwegian folk/viking metal band who, if you ask me, epitomizes what folk metal is about. Not only do they utilize various folk influences and melodies, but they play some of the fastest and brutal metal I’ve heard. Imagine the folk styling of Elvenking and Waylander mixed with heaviness of Thyrfing and Einherjer and throw in the insane drum work of Proscriptor of Absu and you’ll have some idea of Asmegin.

They have only one album to date (though a 4 album deal has been made with Napalm records) a second (rumoured double album as well) is being recorded and man I can’t wait! “Hin Vordende Sod & Sø” is the album I’ll be talking about today. The lyrics are written in Norwegian and Old Norse so I really have no idea what the songs are about, but according to Wikipedia some track are modeled after the Norwegian play Peer Gynt. All the same, I love that cover and it was enough for me to check it out.

“Hin …” begins with “Af Helvegum” which is a heavy, dark piece that features some sinister female vocals by Sareeta of Ram-Zet. It’s haunting and has a nice folk interlude. Next is “Bruderov Paa HæGstadtun” which is a passionate black metally song with a chunky folk bit and Sareeta vocals and violin work.

The heavily black metal stylings are also on tracks “Efterbyrden” which is insanely fast with rhythmic riff work of a folk like melody and incorporates a baby crying underscored by a freaky riff. The crying which is unsettling and eerie carries through to “Op Af Bisterlitiern” which has a sweet folk like melody, just insanely fast also. To round out the crazily fast tunes are “Vargr I VéUm - Eilivs Bane” and “Blodhevn” which both have black metal vocals and are dark and heavy. They also have some nice choral harmonic vocals much like what Into Eternity use with “Blodhevn” having a battle cry feel.

“Huldradans - Hin GrøNnkledde” is a haunting acousticy folk piece and has an enchanting Dead Can Dance feel. There is also the movie soundtrack-like song “Slit Livets Baand” that’s atmospheric yet majestic. And the album closer “Valgalder” is traditionally folky with harmonic vocals that are soothing after the brutal onslaught.

The 2 tracks that stand out for me are “Over ÆGirs Vidstragte Sletter” which opens with vocal harmonics leading into one heavy and brutal death metal song. And my favourite song “Til Rondefolkets Herskab” which features black, death, gothicy and female vocals combined with nice violin melodies and dark heavy riff work. A deliciously folky tune!

Overall “Hin Vordende Sod & Sø” is a great album and anybody into folk/Viking metal must have it. Sareeta (now a permanent member) vocals and violin work add a haunting folk edge to the music that is uniquely Asmegin and I am ever anticipating their follow up release.

Up next will be Mithotyn who are the precursor to Falconer and hopefully if there is time Christian folk metal Holy Blood …. I’ll be hittin’ Vegas for a few days at the beginning of December and whence I return I’ll moving into my Christmas music and I think some of you may be pleasantly surprised …

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bright Summer Afternoon ...

I remember as an impressionable youth watching Much Music's Power Hour (when it was on a decent time 4 pm as opposed to whenever later on.) and I saw the music video for Amorphis's "Black Winter Day". This was the coolest thing I'd had ever seen. At this point I was listening to Slaughter (hair band), Dream Theater and Savatage and such. I was only starting to explore thrash via "borrowed" tapes from my stepbro so Amorphis was totally new to me. This was my first exposure to extreme metal. I talked about the video and song for years cause it would be years before I got around to actually buying the album "Tales From A Thousand Lakes".

Now before I go on, I know Amorphis are referred to as doom death metal, but the folk influences are unmistakable. The melodic solo riff work throughout the songs and Finnish style folk melodies and folklore lyrics (In this case the Finnish national epic "The Kalevala"). I can honestly say that this album was pivotal in my exploration of Folk/Viking metal.

"Tales Of A Thousand Lakes" is a phenomenal album start to finnish (heehee). It begins with the melodic mood setting piano piece "Thousand Lakes". It is sweet with a brooding edge and hypnotic female vocals. The folky style songs are "Into Hiding" which is dark and heavy and uses some clean vocals. "The Castaway" is a little faster and sweetly brooding. After a folky solo bridge the song ends with a passionate, majestic outro. And "Black Winter Day" with its piano intro and melodic riff work, its dark and moody.

The doom comes out on tracks "First Doom" which is heavy and rhythmic, reminiscent of Cathedral. "Forgotten Sunrise" has a killer riff and dark keyboards, with a touch of hope in the guitar solo.

The stand out songs are "Drowned Maid" which features all elements of folk,doom and death metal yet stays very uplifting. It is also a very sing along song which is nice to see in death metal. And the afore mentioned "Into Hiding" and "Forgotten Sunrise" both are among my faves, but in the end I'd have to say that "Black Winter Day" will always hold a special place for me and I honour it by making it my favourite track here.

I should note too that the last song is quite unique. "Magic And Mayhem" is folky death metal song that breaks into an almost technoy beat with bass and drums. The chunky guitar work keeps it from becoming too cheesy and leaves it more industrial like. But it certainly is interesting.

Amorphis' early work to me is their better material and Tomi Koivusaari vocals are distinct and brutal. Thanks to Jose whose reviews of later Amorphis work helped in encouraging me to check the later stuff out and though it's not quite the same, it still is good metal. Those reviews will be another time. I have to say that "Tales Of A Thousand Lakes" is my favourite Amorphis album because it embraces all elements of good crunchy metal riffing, melodic solos and keyboards and brutal vocals. Just damn fine song crafting.

Up next, I had thought Finntroll was brutal, but then I bought Asmegin's album ...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Humppa Day

So as I was saying, Christianity throughout history has had some black marks on it. I blame Man for such atrocities done "In the name of God" and as such, I can certainly understand why some cultures do not like Christianity. I've never understood the need to force one opinion and beliefs on another. I've always prided myself on being open to different cultures and beliefs and I thank my Uncle Eric who once told me ~ I worship God, not religion ~ and that's always stuck with me and strengthen my personal relationship with God.

Even though I may be damning myself, it is with this line of thought that I eventually picked up some Finntroll albums. You see, I had listened to a Finntroll album years ago, and I liked it, but I was hung up on the killing Christians subject, but drawn by the wackiness of trolls. You see, the major lyrical subject of Finntroll is Trolls and Goblins killing Christians. I was torn, but in the end I decided that though they specify Christianity, they don't knock God or Jesus Christ and well you can't blame a culture that has had its roots and own religion suppressed by Christian men to be all hunky dory with it. But alas, let me get into the music ...

Finntroll is folk metal at it's finest often breaking into humppa's (which is a Finnish type of polka) and combining black/Viking metal stylings. It is really quite a unique sound. The album I'll be reviewing today is "Jaktens Tid" (translates as "The Time Of The Hunt"). The lyrics are written and sung in Swedish (because it sounds more trollish ?!?) but thanx to the internet, I can find translations. Some of their other releases come with translations or English summaries. "Jaktens Tid" opens and closes with dark ambient music like winds and cymbals and bookends the album in a nice dark fantastical feel. The songs are "Krig" (Intro) and "Tomhet Och Tystnad Harska" (outro).
You have the fast folk influenced songs like "Skagons Hamnd" and "Den Hornkronte Konungen (Rirfaderstron)" and the speedy "Kyrkovisan". These are all fast heavy and folky. "Krigsmjod" has some nice riffwork with a majestic sound and "Vargtimmen" has a folky intro and a rock feel.

The Hummpa heavy songs are "Fodosagan" which is dark and heavy with a dancy percussion/accordion/acoustic mix happening. And my favourite track "Salget Vid Blodsalv" with bombastic oompa opening to its accordion melody it's fantastic. It has a little Bal-Sagoth feel as well. The instrumental "Bakon Varje Fura" is almost soundtrack like with its orchestration and the ballad stylings of "Aldhissla" is epic at over 6 min (epic for these guys) and is full of passion; dark heavy and sorrowful. The traditional sounding folk song hidden at the end of the disk is quite nice and shows that these musicians are whole heartily rooted in folk music.

The album is just fun and comical at times, but never cheesy. It may take some getting used to, but with an open mind, the polka metal mix is quite exciting ...
now if only they weren't killing Christians .... In the end, I've been laxing over the years as I've been exploring my own viking roots and love of folk music and metal. This style of metal is rooted in celtic/pagan/viking folklore and often deal with battles against Christianity, but it allows for a more thought provoking musical experience.

Up next is the folk metal album that began my journey....

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Torsaker Parish, 1668 - 1676, Angermanland, Sweden.

The Storyteller, in my opinion, are a highly underrated band. They started with strictly acoustic guitars and lots of use of choirs. It wasn't very metal, but it provided a base for the solid power metal music that would come. Replacing the acoustics with electrics, The Storyteller play a blend of Blind Guardian with the anthemic choirs of Hammerfall. The folk elements here are based on melodic guitar solos along the line of Blind Guardian, but not as prominent, and also by the stylistic vocalings of L-G Persson. L-G's voice is more deeper with less range than most power metal outfits, but I find they work well here. L-G at one point left the band because record labels hated his voice and wouldn't sign them unless they had a new vocalist. However, after unsuccessful searches and L-G's ever present assistance with the bands rehearsing, he stepped back up to the reins and I'm happy he did. With so much power metal out there, it's nice to here a refreshing change to the standard power metal wail (that doesn't mean there aren't any, but they are used sparingly).

The album I'll be reviewing today is The Storyteller's third release "Tales Of A Holy Quest". For this album the band left the fantasy Land of Kail of their first 2 releases and moved into the very real land of Sweden. The album is based on the witch-hunts in Sweden from 1668-1676, concentrating heavily on the Torsaker Parish Witch Trials of 1675. The album has a darker edge than you'd normally find with power metal and it has the feel of real passion in it. "Tales Of A Holy Quest" starts off and ends with traditional sounding folk instrumentals "Voices From The Past" and "... And Still They Speak". These are mystical sounding and very much like minstrels playing and sets a good mood for the album.

"Seeds Of Lies", "The Mass" and "Trails Of Blood" are the folk heavy songs accomplished mostly with the Blind Guardian style guitar work and L-G's vocal melodies. "When All Hope Has Faded" is the most folk style song here and is reminiscent of Falconer.

"Conviction" is dark and heavy with an eerie choral bridge that's haunting and "Chamber Of Torture" is fast with nice vocal work and a dark, chunky mid section that gets the head nodding. The album is rounded out with the more traditional power metal songs "Words Of Greed" and "Blinded Eyes". Both are fast and melodic.

The stand out tracks are "A Holy Quest" which is mid-paced and ominous with some good vocal/guitar harmonies going and a very catchy chorus and my favourite "Trails Of Blood". This is an epic track full of passion. It starts off minstrel like and then gets fast and melodic. It features a dark, heavy opera-style section which is great and some beautiful female vocals.

The band makes a point in the liner notes that the "Tales Of A Holy Quest" is just to show what really happened during those years, but that no religious or political views were involved. I chose this album as the turning point for my transition from Hallowe'en (witches) into folk metal. I also chose it because it's subject deals with the darker side of Christianity in history and some of the lengths that man went to to deal with the "unknown" or more simply, a power struggle between the Church and the Masses. History is littered with horror stories and events that paint Christianity in a dark light (such as Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and basic religious wars). My intention is not to force an opinion or start any controversy, but simply to tie in my next post, and explain the justification I made for myself. So I'll summarize here by saying that some cultures and countries do not look kindly on Christianity and historically speaking, rightly so. With that, up next is Finntroll ...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Dance Of Eternity ...

Dream Theater is one of my favourite bands, though it took me a while to get into them (for full story click here). But when I did, I couldn't get enough of them. "Metropolis part II: Scenes From A Memory" is the bands 5th studio album and continues in the traditional DT style, but with more of a theatrical feel. That's probably because it is a concept album. From what I understand, the band never intended to do a follow up to "Metropolis Part 1" off of "Images and Words", but with a little bit of pressure from fans what was going to be just a song turned into a full album. And I must say what an album it is.

After the mediocre release that was "Falling Into Infinity" which I waited patiently for 2 years for (More on that story, when I do my review at a later date) and was not, let say, blown away by, "Metropolis Pt.2" was a welcome return to memorable epic, chaotic song structure and nice sense of growth for the band without losing their unique sound. The story is about Nicholas who has a recurring about a girl in a mirror and sense that something terrible had happened. He goes for hypnosis for help and discovers that his soul is connected to Victoria's (the girl from his dreams). Once out of hypnosis, Nicholas begins to seek out the truth of what happened to Victoria and uncovers a tale of love, deceit, murder and suicide. I chose this album for review partly because it's spooky and is a good way to transition from my Hallowe'en theme, but mostly cause Anonymous Jones mentioned it in a comment and essentially gave me the idea ... thanx! ...

"Metropolis part II" is broken up into acts and scenes and therefore some of tracks are shorter than Dream Theater's usual epicness. This is where the theatrical feel lies, with a number of transitional pieces. The album is not without DT's signature chaotic instrumentals, but the album does have strong foundation and feels like one long song. That foundation is "Metropolis part I" whose melody and lyrical references are peppered throughout. Some may think it's a cop out, but this is a part 2, and even though it was never really intended as one Dream Theater stepped up and proved their songwriting skills with one of their most ambitious efforts.

The album begins with the hypnotist putting Nicholas under to the sweet sounds of an acoustic before LaBrie enters with melodic vocals to introduce the story. And like "Erotomania" from the album "Awake", "Overture 1928" gives us an instrumental medley of the album. "Through My Words" and "One Last Time" continue with the narrative feel and "Fatal Tragedy", "Beyond This Life" and "Home" feature the chaotic instrumentals and Dream Theater's core style. "Home" has a very ethnic sound as well I should note, one of the heaviest riffs Dream Theater has ever played about 2 minutes in. I fast forward through the track just for that bit. "The Spirit Carries On" and "Finally Free" are memorable with great melody and shows us that the band can simply blow us away with straight forward song writing.

Trying to pick stand out Dream Theater
songs is like trying to pick the best thingy from a bunch of great thingy's ... it's hard and this album is the hardest of the lot. I've narrowed it down to "The Dance Of Eternity" which is named after a line from "Metropolis pt. I" and is all chaotic instrumental. It jumps from Goth like guitar chunking to Gershwin/ western saloon style piano playing. All while not loosing focus. That is one thing that makes Dream Theater stand out themselves is that they can wail away with a song for 5, 12, 23 minutes and it always sounds like one song. "Finally Free" begins sweetly melodic and turns freaky with a killer guitar riff. Add in the recreation sound effects of the night of the murder and one chilling scream and the feeling is spine-tingling. I had this song cranked on my iPod while walking through a quite tunnel to work and when the scream and screeching wail of the guitars crescendo people were looking over with a what the hell ?!? look and it was sweet.

My favourite track is the ballad "Through Her Eyes". I love all of Dream Theater's ballads. Every one of them is emotionally moving and passionate and this one my second favourite of the bunch (the first is "Hollow Years" off of "Falling Into Infinity". Sorry, I spoiled the surprise.) The song starts with a female vocalist singing a sweet melody flourished with Petrucci solos before the song pounds us with an acoustic/piano mix that tears at the heartstrings. LaBrie just shines here and the thematic guitar solo throughout is very moving.

The whole album has a haunting feel and the darkest sound since "Awake". There is no doubt this is a Dream Theater album, but it was a riskier move for them and I think it paid off. I'd like to see them do a soundtrack for a movie or TV. That would be cool. "Metropolis pt II: Scenes From A Memory" is also the studio debut for
new keyboardist Jordon Rudess. DT seems to go through keyboardists quite a bit. After the initial vocalist change after "When Dream And Day Unite" DT are now on their third keyboardist. Maybe it's the blistering solo work. Burning them out.

Up next I will further my transition from horror to folk metal with an album about Witch Trials by The StoryTeller ...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Revenge Of The Babysat ...

Well Hallowe'en has come and past and I've now completed my first weekend babysitting stint for my brothers daughters ... whew and now I'll be moving on to some more metal, namely folk influenced.

But first, you may have noticed the extra hallowe'en photos in my blog. Well my buddy FBI builds a huge hallowe'en display on his lawn every year and last year I decided to help. That's where those photos came from. These here today are from this past Hallowe'en. Due to strong winds, we had to forgo on the flying ghoul and fog machine, but substituted a metal grinder, which was plenty effective!

The problem is that FBI has never gotten a lot of visits from kids. His parents house was just outside of town, so as he grew up and built up the display, he only had about 6 kids come. Now he has his own house in the city, and the number increased last year to about 30. I think word is spreading and this year he got about 60 kids. We got some nice scares and are working at trying to get local media coverage, but to no avail. It's a shame really, cause FBI puts his heart into his displays ... it's usually in a jar next to the candy bowl ... but perhaps next year. So enjoy the photos, which are just a small sampling of the efforts that go into this display. And let's hope he can get more kids, cause the scares are wasted on me ... that being I'm to easy to scare ... That's why I joined him.