Solgrav vs F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Solgrav / F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Solgrav / F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Details

Solgrav: All the music written by Solgrav. Material was recorded at Varjot Audio Studios from July to September 2005, except for vocals recorded in February 2006. “Kristallitaivas” was originally released in Solgrav’s first demo, Pohjoisen hämärän sarastus in 2002, and has now been re-arranged for this recording.

F: All music and lyrics written by Ilpo Heikkinen. Arrangements by Ilpo Heikkinen and Jonas Lindberg. Recorded and mixed during December 2005 by Ilpo Heikkinen.

Bands

Solgrav

  • Halla—Vocals
  • Suopeikko—Guitars, bass, Jew’s harp
  • Noitavasara—Drums, piano, accordion, additional vocals

F

  • Ilpo Heikkinen—Vocals, guitars, bass
  • Jonas Lindberg—Drums

Tracks

  1. Solgrav—Vuoksi
  2. Solgrav—Kaksi sutta
  3. Solgrav—Kristallitaivas
  4. F—Perkele
  5. F—Sokea
  6. F—Irti
  7. F—Kauhusta hautaansa kaivaa

Review

A split EP from two vastly different Finnish metal acts. Solgrav are a blackened folk / pagan metal band from Imatra; F are a brutal death metal band from Kempele.

I rather like F’s logo, although in true black metal style you can’t really read it. It’s simply a deer’s horn that looks like an inverted F. Okay, you can read it but only if you’re looking at it upside down.

Solgrav is Swedish for “sun grave”. The name seemingly comes from an old Finnish myth about a place called Auringon Hauta where the sun falls asleep. There is actually a place in Estonia called Auringon Hauta, which is a small lake that was formed by a meteor strike. And it appears that Solgrav have changed their name from Sol grave (meaning ‘sun grave’) to Auringon Hauta (meaning ‘sun grave’).

Solgrav serve up three tracks on this EP, nearly 20 minutes of music. Theirs is a fairly stereotypical Scandinavian black metal fare with a pagan lyrical twist. There is none of the traditional folk metal, Skyclad-style folk elements of fiddles and hurdy-gurdies, flutes or bagpipes in the mix; it’s straight-up black metal: a wall of distorted guitars that plods along, overlaid with growling, barking vocals.

F on the other hand is a darker and more sinister beast. “Pekele” begins with something that sounds like it is being forged in the depths. But about 90 seconds in it unleashes a relentless barage of snare before settling down to a grinding, snarling, gargling pot of boiling metal.

Theirs is a brutal form of death metal. It takes me back to some of the stuff that I listened to in the early 90s. It is relentless and industrial and primitive and downright brutal. It’s like something from a audio horror film—not a genre that I particularly enjoy, but this is rather good.

Conclusion

I discovered that this was not an EP that I could listen to quickly. I tried to race through this one in order to catch up with my review schedule but I couldn’t just listen to this as background music.

This EP demanded my attention and to be present while listening to it. I’m glad I listened to that, because my first couple of semi-absent listenings left me with the impression that this wasn’t a particularly good disc. I was wrong.

While it is not exactly groundbreaking, it is very listenable and rather enjoyable.

Review score: 75%

Solanaceae—Solanaceae (2008)

Solanaceae—Solanaceae (2008)

Solanaceae—Solanaceae (2008)

Details

Descended and handed down in Copenhagen around 1997 and consecrated in Bornholm in 2007-2008. Recorded at Soundscape Studio, Copenhagen, as well as Texas, Washington and Berlin between 2007 and 2008. Mixed and mastered at Soundscape Studio, Copenhagen in June 2008. Engineered by Louise Nipper.

Band

  • Kim Larsen—Vocals, guitars, keyboards, organ, glockenspiel, percussion
  • Michael Laird—Appalachian dulcimer, recorder and glockenspiel, backing vocals
  • Fenella Overgaard—Whispers in the apple grove
  • Anne Eltard—Violin and backing vocals
  • Louise Nipper—Backing vocals
  • Pythagamus Marshall—Singing bowls, recorder, bodhran, and percussion
  • Chelsea Robb—Vocals
  • William Wiegard—French horn
  • Jonathan van der Lieth—Vocals
  • Vincent Farrow—Accordion

Tracks

  1. I saw them through the pines / they only walk on moss
  2. Through the trees spears the sun
  3. Fenella
  4. The blood of my lady
  5. O deep woods
  6. Nakkiel II
  7. Midnight garden
  8. Samorost
  9. The blood of my lady II
  10. Hemlock and mandrake fields
  11. The swallows spirals through them
  12. Nihil sum
  13. I saw her through the trees

Review

With an album cover that looks like it has been taken from a medieval edition of Where’s Wally (that’s Where’s Waldo for our North American viewers) I perhaps should have anticipated this being a folk album (neo-folk or dark folk, for those into more defined sub-genres), but having listened to this album on and off for the last three weeks I’m now up to speed.

Of all the other albums I’ve reviewed to date, this can be most compared to Splinterskin—Wayward Souls (2009). But it’s much, much less spooky. This album I wouldn’t think twice about playing in the dark.

The whole album is very acoustic (as opposed to electric) in nature. The songs are formed around acoustic guitars with accompanying flourishes played on violin, glockenspiel, Appalachian dulcimer, recorder (but more Stairway to Heaven than primary school music class), accordion, and bodhran. It’s a very gentle album but mildly dark in places… just like human nature, I guess.

The opening track “I saw them through the pines / they only walk on moss” (track 1) is built around a repeating, descending chord progression with gentle vocals that at times whisper “I saw them through the pines”… which I’m hoping is some kind of happen-chance romantic encounter and not a medieval-sounding ballad to stalking.

“Through the trees spears the sun” (track 2) is a beautiful song, in a similar nature to the previous. Instrumental “Fenella” (track 3) opens with a very pretty high, picked arpeggio that makes it sound like a harp, over which are blown recorders.

“The blood of my lady” (track 4) is a song that makes a reappearance later in the album (track 9). I still haven’t worked out what it means. Has she been injured? Or put to death? Or is it some kind  of medieval homage to menstruation? Whatever it is, it’s still pretty dark.

“O deep woods” (track 5) features a reverb-heavy female vocalist that gives the song an other-worldly feel. It’s here that we venture more closely towards Splinterskin. It’s a beautiful song, though.

“Nakkiel II” (track 6) has some pace and a bit of life. Like sunshine filling an otherwise shaded forest. This song should have been called “Through the trees spears the sun”! French horn, glockenspiel. This instrumental song has it all.

“Midnight garden” (track 7) is one of the most stereotypical medieval songs on the album. You can imagine the court at dance to this one. Instrumental “Samorost” (track 8) follows suit: more dancing please. Samorost, seemingly is a Czech word used to describe objects that have been sculpted from discarded wood..

“Hemlock and mandrake fields” (track 10) features an accordion. Now, I usually can’t stand the sound of accordions (ever since one chased me down the road when I was a little child!) but it works here, although it does little more than pad out chords.

“The swallows spirals through them” (track 11) is another beautiful track. The melody played on violin spirals like smoke into the sky. And the lyrics haunt:

There’s a vault in the woods
And a throne of moss
A crown of black caress
And a spell of emptiness
They all have black hole eyes
Their voice between the mist and the moor
The swallows spirals through them
The swallows spirals through them

“Now that the blackbird took my eyes” sings the opening line of “Nihil sum” (track 12). Things are getting weird now. This is the song that jars most on the album, and feels a little out of place.

The album closes with a redux of the opening track, this time “I saw her through the pines” (track 13). A gentle end to a gentle album.

Conclusion

This has been quite a lovely album to live with over the last few months. It is gentle but in places dark. I’m not sure we can truly claim that it is metal but it does have some of the attitude of metal, and there are elements that wouldn’t go amiss on an Opeth album, so we’ll let it pass this once.

I’ve really enjoyed this album. It has emotional depth. It is interesting. And quite, quite beautiful.

Review score: 98%

Moonsorrow—Voimasta ja Kunniasta (2001)

Moonsorrow—Voimasta ja Kunniasta (2001)

Moonsorrow—Voimasta ja Kunniasta (2001)

Details

Recorded and mixed at Tico Tico Studio. Mastered at Finnvox Studios. Released on Spikefarm Records, 2001.

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Band

  • Ville Sorvali—Vocals (lead, choirs), bass, handclaps, lyrics
  • Mitja Harvilahti—Guitars (lead, rhythm), vocals (choirs), handclaps
  • Henri Sorvali—Vocals (clean, backing), guitars (rhythm, acoustic), keyboards, accordion, mouth harp, handclaps
  • Marko Tarvonen—Drums, timpani, guitars (acoustic 12-string), vocals (backing, choirs), handclaps

Tracks

  1. Tyven (Serene)
  2. Sankarihauta (Warrior’s grave)
  3. Kylän päässä (A village away)
  4. Hiidenpelto including Häpeän hiljaiset vedet (Field of the devil including Shame quiet waters)
  5. Aurinko ja kuu (The sun and the moon)
  6. Sankaritarina (Warrior’s tale)

Review

I’m going to be honest, I enjoyed this album a lot more than I expected to. Besides Skyclad there isn’t a great deal of folk metal that has interested me. I’ve found a lot of it to be too folk and not enough metal.

Moonsorrow, however, seem to have got the balance just right. Seemingly Moonsorrow, whose name was inspired by the Celtic Frost song “Sorrows of the Moon”, started out as a black metal band that slowly introduced folk elements.

The album opens with “Tyven” which is a pretty and gentle instrumental track with a mediaeval feel to it.

“Sankarihauta” has a bit more of a kick to it, right from the start. The same rhythm drives the song right through to the end, with keyboards dancing around the main riff. About two thirds of the way through it morphs into a galloping break with choral shouts before it breaks down again and returns to the original pattern.

“Kylän päässä” opens with a heavy grinding riff that reminded me of Iron Maiden’s “The Flight of Icarus”. What I do like about this track, as well as many of the others, are the little incidentals: the clashing swords, the boing-boing-boing of a mouth harp. And, of course, the handclaps. Everyone in the band gets a credit for handclaps. Let’s give them all a round of applause.

“Hiidenpelto including Häpeän hiljaiset vedet” and the songs are slowly growing in length and complexity. This is a slower, more ponderous number with mutteringly shouted vocals.

“Aurinko ja kuu” is started by an acoustic guitar and mouth harp. Soon the keyboards comes in, sounding like a flute, the rest of the band follows quickly after. This track has a bouncy folk feel.

“Sankaritarina” has a quiet beginning: just the sound of waves crashing on rocks. Like a dawn it quietly and slowly comes to life to the hiss and pop of vinyl. This song sounds triumphant and noble. The vocals are semi-spoken just beneath the music, until halfway when a chorus takes up the cause. And then it fades out, as slowly and as steadily as it arrived.

Conclusion

All in all, a very pleasant discovery. I’ll definitely be choosing to listen to this again.

Review score: 98%

Hantaoma—Malombra (2005)

Hantaoma—Malombra (2005)

Hantaoma—Malombra (2005)

Details

Recorded in Spring 2005 at Abellion Studio and Winterized Studio. Mixed and mastered at Winterized Studio by Thomas and Lafforgue. Released on Holy Records, May 2005.

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Band

  • Arixon—Vocals
  • Roques—Vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, fiddle, bouzouki, mandolin
  • Lafforgue—Vocals, electric guitars, shawm, bombarde, flutes, bagpipes
  • Deinos—Bass
  • Thomas—Drums

Tracks

  1. Vent Follet 04:29
  2. Malombra 04:03
  3. Hantaoma 04:22
  4. Maluros 04:36
  5. La Ronda dels Mòrts 06:38
  6. Para lo Lop 04:13
  7. Cançon dels Segaires 04:06
  8. Negra Sason 04:14
  9. A la Montanha 02:19
  10. Flama 07:32

Review

So, this past week I’ve learned that Hantaoma is Gascon for ‘ghost’, and is actually pronounced fantauma, and that Gascon itself is a dialect of Occitan, a Romance language that is spoken predominantly in Gascony and Béarn in southwest France. School lesson over, back to the metal…

Having listened to this album a good number of times over the last week I still can’t quite decide whether I like it or not. My interest in folk metal has for a long time started and stopped at Skyclad,—particularly the first album which is simply folk-thrash genius—and to be honest has not gone much beyond that. I have a few The Clan Destined tracks (Martin Walkyier’s band after Skyclad) and, of course, Splinterskin but nothing more. And it’s not that I don’t like folk music per se, I have plenty of folk-related music (Richard Thompson, Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, Hedningarna), it’s just … *shrugs*

There are moments on this album  that I do appreciate, but as I write this I now realise that I’m on track seven already and I can’t quite remember what’s happened  so far. A bit like when you’re driving and you suddenly realise that you can’t remember the last five miles.

There are so good, solid metal riffs such as during opener “Vent Follet” and “Hanaoma” (track 3) but about half way the traditional folk instruments kick in and that’s where I start to screw up my face a little. It’s not that it doesn’t go well with the music… it’s just *shrugs* at times it has a tendency of sounding like something from Fiddler on the Roof.

Ironically, my favourite track on the album is an acoustic one, and possibly the one that sounds most like a folk song. “Negra Sason” (track 8) has quite a rumbling Russian feel. Or as my son Isaac (4) put it, “that sounds like when the [The Hobbit movie] dwarves are throwing the things”.

Conclusion

And so, having listened through once again I’m still in two minds about the album. It’s definitely not something that I would switch off if it came on but I’m not sure I’d go in search of it unless asked.

That said, that may well be a possibility give that my son Joshua (6) has just told me that he gives the album a full 10/10. His younger brother and I (despite the dwarves throwing things) give it a (still respectable) six.

Review score: 60%

Gwynbleidd—Amaranthine EP (2006)

Gwynbleidd—Amaranthine EP (2006)

Gwynbleidd—Amaranthine EP (2006)

Details

Recorded with Ka on Luna Sun at DMD Studios, Brooklyn, NY. Mixed by Michael Kacunel and Maciek Miernok at Galicja Studios, Brooklyn, NY. Mastered by Alan Silverman at Arf! Digital, New York, NY. Released on 6 June 2006 as an independent release.

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Band

  • Maciej Kupiszewski—Vocals and guitars
  • Michal Kacunel—Vocals and guitars
  • Jakub Kupiszewski—Bass
  • Adam Romanowski—Drums

Tracks

  1. Nostalgia (10′ 54″)
  2. New setting (9′ 45″)
  3. The awakening (9′ 51″)
  4. Lure of the land (9′ 12″)

Review

The EP opener “Nostalgia” beings with a clean guitar, quite pretty, almost folk-y sounding riff, that gradually sounds more and more sour before it transitions into a distorted riff and the growling vocals begin.

And this being progressive death metal, the song then grumbles on for another nine minutes, twisting and turning, starting and stopping, delighting and surprising.

About seven and a half minutes in, the guitars are clean again for another folk-y, almost Gregorian chant-style passage. And a minute later we’re back on the train, and treated to a slightly uncomfortable sounding (in a good way!) guitar solo.

“New setting”, track 2, opens with a slow, doom-like riff, that reminds me a little of Paradise Lost. This song seems to have a little less variation than its predecessor, or perhaps it’s that they wait until about a minute before the end before the clean passage.

By now, on my first listen, I was already comparing Gwynbleidd (Welsh for ‘wolf blood’) to Opeth with their mixture of heavy and clean riffs. But these guys have a decidedly folk metal slant. This is even more evident on the next track.

“The awakening”, track 3, starts with a strong, driving riff. The vocals surface quite unexpectedly about 90 seconds in. A proper folk-y riff played on what sounds like a nylon-string acoustic guitar, with accompanying bodhran-style drums and a flute.

And at nine minutes and 51 seconds, the song just cuts off.

The final track, “Lure of the land” follows a similar path. It opens with an acoustic, strummed chord sequence before it’s overtaken by the same riff on electric guitars. Vocals growl into view around 1′ 45″.

Throughout the song, amidst the distorted riffs, like clearings in a dark forest, there are clean passages. In places folk metal, in places mediaeval-sounding—like Opeth once were when they imagined they were lute-playing minstrels.

Around 7′ 20″ the song slows to a dirge. Out of which is reclaimed the original riff for a minute or two. Until fade to black…

Conclusion

For an EP it’s pretty long, with none of the four songs dipping below nine minutes, firmly placing it in the progressive camp. While this EP didn’t exactly set me on fire, I did enjoy it. Parallels can be made in places to Opeth, but that’s perhaps inevitable given its genre.

I have another Gwynbleidd album coming up this week, that actually includes the first two tracks from this EP. So it will be interesting to hear how that compares.

In the meantime, I think this is definitely a keeper.

Review score: 68%

Аркона—Возрождение (2004)

Аркона—Возрождение (2004) or in English: Arkona—Vozrozhdeniye (Revival)

Аркона—Возрождение (2004) or in English: Arkona—Vozrozhdeniye (Revival)

Details

Recorded at CDM records studio (Moscow) in autumn 2003. Released in 2004. Re-released in English (“Revival”) in 2005.

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Band

  • Маша (Masha) “Scream” — Vocals, keyboards, percussion, tambourine, komuz, guitars (acoustic), shaker, shaman drums
  • Сергей (Sergey) “Lazar” — Guitar
  • Руслан (Ruslan) “Kpiaz” — Bass
  • Влад (Vlad) “Artist” — Flutes, Bagpipes, Gaita, Gallega, Blockflute, Vocals
  • Лесьяр (Lesyar) — Vocals on К Дому Сварога (To the house of Svarog), Черные Вороны (Black Maria) and Под Мечами… (Under the swords…)

Tracks

  1. Коляда (Kolyada / Christmas carol)
  2. Масленица (Carnival)
  3. К Дому Сварога (To the house of Svarog)
  4. Черные Вороны (Black Ravens)
  5. Возрождение (Revival)
  6. Русь (Rus—old name for the land and people of Russia)
  7. Брате Славяне (Brother Slavs)
  8. Солнцеворот (Solstice)
  9. Под Мечами… (Under the swords…)
  10. По Звериным Тропам… (Down animal tracks/paths)
  11. Заложный (Zalozhnev)
  12. Зов Предков (Call of the wild/Call of ancestors)

Review

As it happens one of my goals for the next couple of years is to return to learning Russian. For as long as I remember I’ve had a fascination with the country, and began learning the language in 1987 in preparation for a school trip to Moscow and Leningrad (as it was still called then). I still have the Russian hat and small bust of Lenin that I bought in a shop just off Red Square. But I digress…

Arkona are a Russian pagan/folk metal band whose lyrics are heavily influenced by Russian folklore and Slavic mythology. According to the Encyclopaedia Metallum, “Arkona was the last pagan Slavic city-castle destroyed in 1168 by the crusade lead by Bishop Absalon and King Valdemar the Great of Denmark.” This is their debut album.

Their music most certainly has a folk sound to it, which isn’t surprising when you realise that they include a number of traditional Russian instruments alongside the standard metal band line-up of drums, guitars and bass. Like Opeth vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt, singer Maria “Masha Scream” Arkiprova moves effortlessly between clean vocals and a death-style growl.

While I love early Skyclad, who were one of the first bands to fuse metal and folk—their first album The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth (1991) is still one of my favourite albums ever, I must be honest and say that this is a style of music that I’m not usually drawn to.

But I really enjoyed this album. It’s fun, it’s melodic, and the Slavic lyrics give the songs a strength and bite that they might not have had if sung in English. The music clearly draws on traditional Russian music, being cynical for a moment you could be forgiven for dismissing this as an entry for the Eurovision Song Contest but there’s a depth and atmosphere to these songs that I imagine you can only truly appreciate if you understand the lyrics and something of the culture too.

There’s a progressive feel to this album. These songs feel like more than just songs, there’s a drama, a narrative. The songs are events to be experienced.

Conclusion

If you have a passing interest in folk rock or folk metal then definitely give it a spin. I didn’t expect to be as impressed as I am but there is an integrity to this music, particularly because they sing in their own language.

I’d like now to hear some of their later albums. The few of their later songs that I’ve listened to on YouTube, I’ve liked.

Review score: 89%

Video

One of my favourite songs of theirs (not on this album), plus a great video.

Splinterskin—Wayward Souls (2009)

Splinterskin—Wayward Souls (2009)

Splinterskin—Wayward Souls (2009)

Details

Music recorded from Autumn 2006 to Autumn 2008 in Oregon, Ohio. All music written and performed by Splinterskin. Illustrations by Saint John. Photos of Splinterskin taken by Andrea St John. Graphic design by Abby Helasdottir. Album released on Cold Spring Records, 2009.

Band

  • Splinterskin: Vocals, guitars

Tracks

  1. Chanting Bells Call Shadows
  2. Dancing Dead Men
  3. The Crumbling Cabin
  4. Something In The Walls
  5. Moonlight Rain
  6. The Thing That Wasn’t
  7. Broken Down Hearse
  8. Still At The Windowsill
  9. Hoofbeats
  10. The Eyes That Hide
  11. The Skarekrow (October Roads)
  12. A Horrible Night To Have A Curse
  13. Black Bird Sorrow Song
  14. The Man On The Porch
  15. A Trail Of Trees
  16. Wayward Souls
  17. Dancing Dead Men (Reprise)

Review

Another CD grabbed from my shelves at random, and another week I find myself listening to something that isn’t technically metal but sure embodies the spirit of metal. Splinterskin could probably be categorised at a push under the genre: “Spooky, dark folk metal”.

I have to say that I really liked this album. What’s not to like? Acoustic guitars; haunting violin accompaniments; whispering vocals; and tales of dancing dead men, sounds of scratching behind walls, and forest rituals.

This is an album that elicits the same emotional response in me as the soundtrack to the computer game Dear Esther, written by Jessica Curry. It has a sleepy, melancholic, haunting character to it; like a cross between Richard Thompson, Tom Morello’s incarnation as The Nightwatchman, and Tom Waits.

The lyrics are poetic and incredibly dark, but strangely and beautifully so. It almost transports you to a far off, simpler time in British history when we lived closer to the elements, in the shadow of the forests that once covered these isles. In places there is an almost innocence to some of the lyrics, a child-like non-judgemental inquisitiveness and observation in the words; while still maintaining a air of horror-lite. It’s quite masterful.

Conclusion

If I’m honest, I didn’t really expect to like this album as much as I do.

The turning point probably came when I accidentally left my clock radio to wake me up to a CD the other morning and I came-to around 06:15 with the spooky lyrics of “Broken Down Hearse” whispering away to my right. It reminded me a little of the first time I ever listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, lying on the floor in the dark at a friend’s house during a party. I lay in the dark and allowed the music to gently rouse me to life. A gentle, if initially freaky, way to greet the day. An interesting way to really get to know an album. I recommend it. And the album.

Review score: 95%

Video