Archive for March, 2008

THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND – 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on March 29, 2008 by monopolyphonic

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band - 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons Although it didn’t have a title at the time, I had a feeling that 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons was going to be a strong contender for album of the year ever since I saw the band perform two of the tracks off the album at their first-ever performance in Chicago (at the Empty Bottle) waaaaay back in the summer of 2006. Fast-forward about two years, and it seems that I was right; this name-changing collective from our Neighbor to the North continues to both refine their identity and separate themselves from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, their twin for whom they have been inexorably tied to since their inception. True, both bands are thematically similar, but with Godspeed, looming portents of tragedy inhabit every corner of their music; indeed, what makes much of Godspeed’s music so enthralling is how effortlessly the band can paint a portrait of a grand, eloquent and totally inescapable cataclysm that’s just a blink away.

The tragedies with A Silver Mt. Zion are smaller – they’re more human when contrasted with the sort of Dies Irae fare that Godspeed work with. But what really separates A Silver Mt. Zion is their use of vocals as a part of this process. Musically, I don’t think the distinction needs to be made; it’s self-explanatory. But thematically, the use of voice provides an anchor to all of this; there’s a personal side to whatever great ruin is lurking around us now, and it adds another level to the music, whether it’s through protest or elegy.

On 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, the band seem to favor using both. Although their third album was entitled “This Is Our Punk Rock”, 13 Blues is by far the rawest, angriest album the band have made. It’s also the one that distances them the most from Godspeed. The first twelve tracks consist solely of a high-pitched drone, a drone that’s not making music, not setting the scene, and not pulling a Korn by giving us a minute of silence to ponder until something else happens. These tracks exist simply to give space: space between A Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed, and a space between A Silver Mt. Zion and all their other work. As Alan Watts wrote in What is Zen?, “space isn’t nothing – it’s the other pole of something.” Likewise, 13 Blues isn’t just another A Silver Mt. Zion album, it’s their “rock” album, the album that many bands who exist on the threshold of many genres will make at some point. And it starts with 1,000,000 Died To Make This Sound.

That song was the encore for that Chicago show I saw nearly two years ago. I was startled by how immediate it was, and the album version is more startling. The title of the song is a mantra that haunts the entire composition. It seems to be always present, even when we can’t hear it. It is this mantra that the song begins and ends with. What unfolds in the middle an entrancing six-minute punk freak-out that sees the band scaling some terrifying heights before descending back into the mantra with Efrim Menuck singing over it, sometimes with conviction, and sometimes with a sneer (“silk-screen that, ye twits, across thy internet…”). For any who haven’t heard Menuck’s vocals, they may take some getting used to (on this album, his vocals are quite high in the mix) – he falters regularly, but on this album, the faltering only aids the unpolished chaos surrounding him.

The title track channels much of the violent energy that the band displayed in the previous song; it rages for the first few minutes with Efrim conducting a call and response with the rest of the band. As is the case with much of A Silver Mt. Zion lyrics, I’m not quite sure what the source of their discontent is, but I believe in it. Aided by cries of “There’s ravens in the gun trees”, “I just want some action” and “No heroes on my radio”, the band propel their unrest forward with sonics instead of strings. Overall, 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons is the least “post-rock” song the band have done (aside from the obvious punk influence, it also, as the title suggests, leans heavily into the blues genre), but it’s a pleasure to listen to. What it lacks in dynamic progression it makes up for with unhinged “fuck you.” punk bombast, boiling over at the end with trembling shouts of “We will not sing at your damn parade.”

The punk/blues mix continues with Black Water Blowed/Engine Broke Blues, the first half of which is a storm of twitchy guitar and schizophrenic drums that devolves into a more traditional (albeit still sonically ragged) blues song. In the second half, a dirge slowly emerges from the punk onslaught. The song gets quieter and quieter until its abrupt but pitch-perfect conclusion, a lone cello quickly diminishing into nothing.

13 Blues closes with BlindBlindBlind, the other song that I heard at the Chicago show. It’s a beautiful song, and the best example of a “builder” on this album, the song that unfolds slowly, erupts, and then recedes. Many bands have used this structure, but A Silver Mt. Zion have always been among the best at it. BlindBlindBlind begins with a shaky, lone guitar, and then Efrim’s vocals come in, and then the strings, and backing vocals, and before you know it, the whole band is pounding out the final sections with great, lovely ferocity. Then suddenly, everything drops off just as quickly as it arrived. The song (and the album) conclude with whispered chants of “Some hearts a true”, a phrase that appears many times in the song, sometimes as a lament, sometimes as a promise. And then it’s over.

People often assume that because A Silver Mt. Zion don’t deal in pop pleasantries and make music that routinely stretches past the ten-minute mark that they’re somehow pretentious by default. And perhaps they could be. Such a thing is quite subjective, after all. However, if pretension is an ingredient for making music this damn good, let me take a cue from Swans and state that:

“Pretension In Music Is A Good Idea.”

HD RATING: 10/10

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MESHUGGAH – Obzen (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on March 25, 2008 by monopolyphonic

Meshuggah - Obzen For a while, it looked as though Meshuggah might have made it through the Great Scandinavian Metal Transmogrification (hereafter referred to as the GSMT) unscathed. The band’s first post-millennial effort was 2002’s Nothing, an album which featured a more stripped-down approach to the band’s traditionally complex sound. Nothing might not have been able to rival the band’s crowning achievement, 1998’s impossibly ruthless Chaosphere, but really, could anything? Songs like Closed-Eye Visuals and Rational Gaze off of Nothing still featured the band making the most of their trademark metal spasms.

2004 saw the release of I, a single 20+ minute song that featured what sounded like the meatiest parts of Chaosphere strung out on steroids and brawling in an alleyway. At the time, I felt more like a promise than it did a song: “We’re not going to go soft on you”, the band seemed to proclaim. Left unstated was the obvious “Like In Flames, Soilwork, Opeth (!), Arch Enemy…”, who were among the first casualties of the GSMT, a movement in which many prominent Scandinavian metal bands dumbed-down their sound to make it more digestible for the American masses.

Next came Catch-Thirtythree; if I was a promise, than Catch-Thirtythree was the revision: “All bets are off.” Still, the album failed in large part because it was too experimental for its own good; it wasn’t necessarily a bad album, just not a Meshuggah one. But it left a foul aftertaste.

There. The stage has now been properly set for Obzen, an album which seems to cement Meshuggah as the newest members of the GSMT, right alongside fellow Swedes Pain of Salvation (!!), who joined up with last year’s Scarsick.

Where to start? Well, first the good news: Tomas Haake (arguably the most versatile drummer in all of metal) is back on the kit (after sitting out on Catch-Thirtythree for the newly developed software synthesizer, “Drumkit From Hell”). The bad news Haake’s performance is the only real strong part of the album, and even by Meshuggah standards, it’s a little lacking. In the first song (Combustion), Haake demures from his typical polyrhythmic/common time juxtapositions in the verses and instead cranks out a lot of stagnant hits on the snare, like the bad hardcore band that played in your friend’s basement last fall. Combustion also features the obligatory guitar solo, but instead of an unpredictably serpentine onslaught, we are instead treated to a lifeless John Petrucci imitation instead.

There’s a lot of different problems with Obzen. The biggest one is that too many of the songs feel too similar (Electric Red, Lethargica and Pineal Gland Optics all sound like B-sides of the same unfinished Nothing-era track). On the title track, Meshuggah do their best All That Remains impression with the main riff, before plugging away at another Nothing B-side.

The band fare better on the longer songs. Bleed and Dancers To A Discordant System are the two best songs here, and both succeed for different reasons (Dancers To A Discordant System successfully carries on the spirit of the Nothing approach, while Bleed taps back to the band’s thrash influences). But both songs aren’t without their flaws; Dancers To A Discordant System features another lifeless solo, while Bleed milks its final passages for more than they’re worth.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m taking glee in writing all this. Because I’m not. Indeed, it pains me to write this. Meshuggah were always one of my favorites from the Scandinavian scene, and to this day, Chaosphere remains one of my absolute favorite albums, of any genre. The musicianship displayed there was inhuman. Chaosphere is a transcendent, unrelenting experience. But more than that, though, is that the album feels like one that only Meshuggah could’ve made. Obzen, by contrast, doesn’t really feel like a Meshuggah release, even though all the elements are there: there’s the distinct sound of the bass and guitars, Jens Kidman’s maniacal screams, there’s even the structure in some of the songs. But it’s not making me sit up and take notice.

HD RATING: 3/10

WHY? – Alopecia (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on March 25, 2008 by monopolyphonic

Why? - Alopecia A quick trip to the dictionary informs me that “alopecia” means “baldness.” It’s an apt term to describe the latest album from Why?; the fear of exposure haunts many of these songs, be it in the man who’s crying in the bathroom in The Vowels, Pt. 2, in the joyful denial of the stalker in Simeon’s Dilemma, in the troubled fantasies of the man in Good Friday who is not quite ready to admit them to his therapist. If this all sounds a bit atypical for a hip hop album, it’s because Why? aren’t your typical hip hop band. Mixing sly, morose narratives that favor personal honesty over glamour with an alternative backdrop that’s sometimes playful and sometimes low-key, Why? have crafted the hip hop album to beat for 2008.

Detractors are likely to point out that there’s not much actual rapping on Alopecia, but the album works as a hip hop album in other ways: it’s got groove, a great sense of rhyme, it’s suggestive, it’s hyperbolic and at times, it’s surprisingly menacing. The album kicks things off with The Vowels, Pt. 2, a song which features all of the aforementioned traits, plus rapping for the hip hop true-believers. While some may be put off by Jonathan Wolf’s thin vocals, those of us familiar with bands like The Mountain Goats will feel right at home. What Wolf lacks in vocal attractiveness, he makes up for with deft lyrics and a steadfast, unapologetic delivery. Most hip hop songs conclude when the lyrics run out, but this isn’t the case for The Vowels, Pt. 2. There’s a two minute musical passage to be played before the song ends (and the chorus appears one more time, soaked in reverb).

Indeed, the best quality of Alopecia is how well the music compliments Wolf’s stories of rocks and hard places. The music usually serves to propel the lyrics forward, and to this end, it works quite well. The sudden swell and immediate retreat that appears near the end of The Hollows perfectly reinforces the narrator’s wise decision to abandon vengeance in a foreign land and count his losses instead. And the keyboard glimmer in the chorus of These Few Presidents (“even though I haven’t seen you in years/your’s is a funeral I’d fly to from anywhere”), makes it even more suggestive. Is it a sweet promise, or is there some bitterness harbored there? Wolf plays the line straight, not saying any more than he needs to; this, coupled with the cryptic lyrics (which mix phrases like “two first names and an ampersand/embroidered proudly on a kitchen towel” and “my crooked Chinese fingers grouped/the machinery of your throat”) leave the song a mesmerizing (if a bit unsettling) one.

The apex of these ideas arrive near the close of the album with Simeon’s Dilemma, a sweet song with lots of bright, major key piano to serve as the backdrop for a tale of obsessive voyeurism that ends in violence (or perhaps it just pretends that it does – either way, it certainly made me do a double take the first time I heard it). The descending piano line increases in intensity here as the lyrics wade into darker and darker territory (going from “but I still hear your name/in wedding bells” and “you’re the only proper noun I need” to the chorus of “stalking’s my whole style/and if I get caught I’ll/deny, deny, deny”), and the song finally concludes with the opening verse turned on it’s head and we find out what the narrator is really holding in his hand (hint: it’s another hand, but not in the way you might be thinking). That Wolf manages to make a song so inherently ugly as pleasant as it is only adds to the allure of Alopecia.

There’s no question that Wolf knows what he’s doing with his music, so it should come as no surprise to see that he knows when to let his songs speak for themselves. That’s why the music in Good Friday is bare and unobtrusive; it’s the perfect place for the narrator to let sin after sin out with a casual indifference. At the center of everything is that fear again, the ever-present uneasiness of being found out. On Alopecia, such a fear is rational to hold; after all, one can only empty the skeletons out of their closet for so long without drawing the attention of the neighbors. To witness such a spectacle is an oddly entrancing one, one that carefully prods the dark corners of our minds for whatever we may be hiding there.

HD RATING: 9.5/10

VIRGIN BLACK – Requiem: Fortissimo (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on March 20, 2008 by monopolyphonic

Fortissimo Virgin Black have existed quietly on The End Records for the past seven years, too often overshadowed by the work of labelmates like Agalloch, Winds and Ulver. Their albums have always been dark, expressionistic laments of the inherent failures of man. This description might make them sound like a refined black metal band, but nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no anger to be found in their albums, no sense of hate towards the theological status quo (full disclosure: many members of the band identify themselves as Christians, but they do not espouse Church doctrine in their music, instead focusing on the spiritual aspects of the religion, and not the dogma). The bottom line is, Virgin Black aren’t about rebellion. They’re about reconciliation and regret. The band have more in common with dark neoclassical ensembles like Elend than they do with, say, Darkthrone.

Requiem: Fortissimo represents the third and final chapter of an album trilogy focusing on ??? (curiously, the trilogy was released achronologically – the first album, Requiem: Pianissimo has yet to be released). Anyone versed in music terminology will recognize “fortissimo”, and the term is quite an apt one to describe this album, which shares a lot in common with The Silent Enigma-era Anathema and early Katatonia.

Most of the bands who dominated the death/doom scene in the early nineties have either disbanded or evolved into something else, and Virgin Black seem eager to pick up right where they left off. The band an admirable job, sounding often like the legitimate successors to this style. Really, the only time they lose grasp of the style is early on in the album with In Winter’s Ash, a song that gets too musically sparse for too much of the time.

Things are clear right from the beginning that this album’s instrumentation will have little in common with Requiem: Mezzo Forte. The Fragile Breath opens with a pummeling drum and guitar line before about-facing and slowing things down. Way down. Down to the tempo doom is supposed to be played at.

The Fragile Breath demonstrates the two defining musical characteristics of the album. The first is the vocals: the doom style here is defined largely by what goes on vocally (occasionally, there will be a string or a horn flourish, but they’re relatively uncommon). First, there’s the guttural growls provided by Rowan London. Then there’s the hauntingly angelic soprano from Samantha Escarbe. Finally, there’s the obscure, Gregorian Chant-like sections. These three vastly different vocal styles, working in tandem, are what make the album work, providing it with a distinct personality.

Secondly, there’s the recurrence of motifs introduced from the first album. Fragments of Requiem, Kyrie surface in various forms on The Fragile Breath, and at the end of Darkness. The last track Forever, consists entirely of a lone piano playing the final strains Kyrie.

Although the twelve minute Darkness ascends to some truly terrifying heights, the most unnerving track on the album is actually the much-shorter Lacrimosa (Gather Me), a song that plays out like a woe-filled hymn to a distant God. The song opens with London evoking the Almighty with all the agony he can muster (“Gather me, for I am scattered/Speak comfort to me/Gather me, share my sorrow”).

Requiem: Fortissimo‘s menacing tone is sustained even when the songs temporarily abate from the doom style. The piano interludes in God in Dust, for example, are anything but calming, and the strings that surface briefly in Silent are decidedly amelodical. And the band aren’t afraid to hint that they could up the tempo at any time by occasionally tossing in some double-bass drumwork at unexpected moments.

Even though the doom influence is extraordinarily prevalent on Requiem: Fortissimo, it’s remarkable how identifiable the album is as a work of Virgin Black. It’s in the anguish of their lyrics, in the way the band let their compositions slip into states of diminished frailty. The band have succeeded twofold here, by crafting an album in the style of a genre whose heyday (if one can claim that death/doom ever had a heyday) has long since past, and by keeping their identity in the process.

HD RATING: 8.5/10

FLOGGING MOLLY – Float (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on March 18, 2008 by monopolyphonic

Flogging Molly - Float Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, so in an effort to get into the spirit of things, I scanned my MP3 player for something appropriate to play for the car ride home from work. All I had with me was Flogging Molly’s last album, 2004’s Within A Mile of Home. I hadn’t listened to that album in a while, and after a few songs had finished, I was reminded as to why. Disgruntled, I arrived home and burned a copy of The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy and the Lash for the trip to the pub. It was the best decision I made all day.

When they’re at their best, Flogging Molly capture the full spectrum of the Irish spirit, from the sunny highs of jovial celebration to lows of burdening turmoil, and the regrets of the downtrodden. As a band, they can’t usurp The Pogues from the Celtic-Punk throne, but 2002’s Drunken Lullabies showed that they could measure up to them. That Float doesn’t quite reach the place where The Pogues reside was perhaps inevitable, but thankfully, it’s still a vast improvement over Within A Mile of Home.

There’s nothing watered down about the modern aspects of Flogging Molly’s sound on Float (this being the prime thing that held back Within A Mile of Home). The best quality of this album is that songs – every one of them – feel genuine. The album opener, Requiem For A Dying Song, calls to mind The Sunny Side of the Street, the song that kicks off The Pogues’ 1991 album, Hell’s Ditch. Both songs belie the beauty of their music with their troubled lyrics (with The Pogues song an account of a nameless man’s devotion to excess, and the Flogging Molly song a lurid tale of government oppression).

Requiem For A Dying Song may not particularly pleasant, content-wise, but it’s plenty pleasant to listen to, and as an album opener, it’s a very reassuring sign that Flogging Molly are going to do things right on this album (a reassurance that’s oddly reinforced in the song’s pre-chorus: “Talk, don’t talk if you’ve got nothing to say/Walk, don’t walk if our feet don’t know the way”). And they do. There are some fine examples of Celtic-Punk on display in Float, be it in the dark rumble of Lightning Storm, or the rocky guitar drive of You Won’t Make A Fool Out of Me (a song that gets a surprising amount of mileage out of one of the most familiar Irish song progressions ever).

But Celtic-Punk isn’t all Flogging Molly have in store for us on Float – they also have several songs that veer into rock territory. This is an excellent thing, because Celtic-Punk (like power metal, or any other genre that depends heavily on constant musical drive) can get tiring if it’s not assembled with absolute expertise. Some of these more rock-oriented songs are among the best tracks on the album. Punch Drunk Grinning Soul begins with an acoustic guitar being strummed menacingly to an inch of its life, before the rest of the instruments kick in. The tempo is slower, but the song still showcases the band’s intensity and their gift for springing soaring melodies onto the audience seemingly out of nowhere. Punch Drunk Grinning Soul culminates in a whirling guitar storm, before abruptly ending in a sample that segues nicely into the next song, Us of Lesser Gods, a bright and bouncy song with a heavy folk influence in the modern instruments, as well as the Celtic ones.

When The Story So Far comes around to send the album off (which it does perfectly), it solidifies Float as the most diverse Flogging Molly album to date. But it’s not just the reasonable thinking-outside-the-box that makes Float so enjoyable, it’s the fact everything on display here clicks with everything else. After all, Float isn’t just the Flogging Molly album that covers the most territory, it’s the one that covers the most territory well. Only time will tell how long the album can claim both things.

HD RATING: 8/10

THE HELIO SEQUENCE – Keep Your Eyes Ahead (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on March 18, 2008 by monopolyphonic

The Helio Sequence - Keep your Eyes Ahead There’s a fair dose of melancholy on display in Keep Your Eyes Ahead, the latest album from Portland’s The Helio Sequence, a band who specialize in a tricky amalgamation of pop, rock and electronica. Their last album, 2004’s Love and Distance towed a similar line, musically speaking, but the songs there were warmer and more open (not in the least because of the album’s use of harmonica – is there any instrument that conveys warmth more immediately in rock music than the harmonica?). This isn’t to say that Keep Your Eyes Ahead is cold by comparison (it isn’t), it just feels a little less inviting in the music department than its predecessor, a trait which works surprisingly well to the album’s advantage. The songs here are just as relaxed as on Love and Distance, but here, we get a sense that the music is much more expansive than it’s letting on, lurking just beyond any horizon we might perceive.

I hope I’m not misrepresenting myself here, because Keep Your Eyes Ahead is quite a good album. Like all skilled pop ensembles, The Helio Sequence wear their heartache on their sleeve without apology, but this is where the pop similarities end. Whereas most pop is content to ride out its emotional misgivings on the tried-but-true 3 minute verse-chorus-verse-chorus format (a strategy that is certainly not without its merits), The Helio Sequence take a different approach to things, providing their songs either with a total reprieve of the pop formula, or sufficient breathing room therein. The end result of this is that the album often leads to moments of glistening, unexpected beauty.

Though songs like You Can Come To Me and the title track, Keep Your Eyes Ahead, each have their moments of electro-pop glory, the best example of this comes near the close of the album with Hallelujah (a song that begins innocuously before taking off on a shimmering geyser of pop bliss in its final minutes). Hallelujah is definitely the best song on the album; it’s a joy to listen to, and the “why won’t you call me?” lyrical content is temporarily set aside for some theological ruminations. And even when the band are moping about in their sorrow, as they do on the opening song, Lately (whose chorus is: “I’m living alone, living alone/I don’t need you anymore”), it’s alright, because the music in the song is as vast as the sadness the band purportedly feel.

It’s true that the lyrical content is the weak link here; I hate to harp on lyrics so much here, but they’re really the only thing to criticize here, as the band make offer no musical conceits whatsoever. And even in the realm of lyrics, phrases like “You can run run run/But you can’t escape” (You Can Come To Me) and “But it always, comes back to this/yes it always, comes back to this” (the aptly titled Back To This) might make some cringe, but they’re certainly not unforgivable. And because the band utilize reverb and multi-tracking heavily, the lyrics aren’t a focal point for much of the album anyways (as much of the vocals of the album are buried in the mix). Really the only time the lyrics are exposed are when the band venture outside the electro-pop-rock style. This doesn’t happen often on the album, so when they do, it’s a nice change of pace. Songs like Shed Your Love and Broken Afternoon showcase the band’s takes on folk and alt-country, respectively, and in both cases, they succeed admirably.

Keep Your Eyes Ahead closes with No Regrets, an all-too-brief slice of murky americana. Perhaps it’s fitting that only in this song minute and a half song do the band bust out the harmonica that was so prevalent on the last release and so conspicuously absent here. At present, I’m not sure how well Keep Your Eyes Ahead stands up to Love and Distance, but I do know that while I appreciated what was presented here, that harmonica closing the album made me think of what could have been. You can take that any number of ways. I’m taking it as a 7.5.

HD RATING: 7.5/10

ELUVEITIE – Slania (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on March 12, 2008 by monopolyphonic

Eluveitie - Slania Folk-metal is one of my favorite metal sub-genres because its major flaw is, in a way, a blessing: having too much of a good thing. Moonsorrow’s latest album, Viides Luku – Hävitetty, is a prime example. It’s a fantastic album, but it’s monstrous in scope. It’s not an album you can just pop in at any time; Viides Luku – Hävitetty is a commitment. If you’ve got an hour to devote to these two tracks (yes, two), it will reward you well, but if you don’t, you’re not likely to think much of it.

There are no such “problems” on Slania, the second album by the Swiss-born-but-Celtic-influenced Eluveitie. While there’s much to say about the music here, let’s instead examine something else for a minute here: the band’s label. Slania is the first album for Eluveitie on Nuclear Blast, and after a few listens, I’m lead to believe that this label change is largely responsible for the band’s change in sound. You see, Spirit, the band’s first album, was a blend of folk and black metal: the tempos were fast, the screams were intense and unrelenting, and folk instruments like tin whistle had a prominent position right alongside the guitars. On Slania, the black metal aspect of the band’s sound is either diminished severely or absent entirely, depending on the song one listens to; it’s been replaced by a more mid-tempo, melodic death metal approach, something akin modern Soilwork, mixed with Celtic folk instruments.

Actually, the Soilwork comparison is more valid than one might think. For one thing, both bands now share the same label. The speak/scream vocal style favored on the album calls to mind Speed Strid, and the song structures are similar, too. Slania is aactually a lot like Soilwork’s Natural Born Chaos; you just have to replace the groovy keyboard with bagpipes and hurdy gurdy (as these are the elements that propel each album forward). Another change to the band’s style is their lyrics (or more accurately, language). Previous albums were sung almost entirely in Gaulish, a long-defunct language of the Celtic region. On Slania, the band incorporate English into many of their songs.

Does any of this make Slania bad? Of course not. When the band are running on all cylinders, like in Gray Sublime Archon, they’re creating folk-metal of the highest caliber, like a locally-minded In Extremo. And when the band concentrate on just the folk aspect of their music, as they do on Anagantios and Giamonios (as well as the acoustic version of Samon which closes the album), they play with such conviction that it puts folk-metal bands like Cruachan to shame.

In general, the band seems to work best with their new sound when they’re tackling songs that are more energetic in nature. Slower tracks, like Slanias Song and Elembivos don’t really work well; they’re too drawn out, too stagnant. The solos at the end of Elembivos feel particularly out of place. They lock the song into a stasis that it never gets out of. A song like Primordial Breath is more the band’s fare; it opens amidst a chorus of hushed, layered vocals before exploding with metallic Celtic fury. There’s actually some black metal elements here, even though the song is anything but (listen to the blastbeats in the beginning if you don’t believe me). Bloodstained Ground is another great track; the tempo moves around a lot in it, but it’s anchored at a fairly quick speed, and the flute here really gets a chance to shine.

The band save some of its best material for last. Tarvos and Calling The Rain are total showstoppers, and both appear at the end of the album. These songs transcend the limitations inherent in mid-tempo compositions. The band here know just when to switch to a folk section, when to switch back, when the right time for a drum fill is, when to change the tempo and when to change it back.

While I don’t think that Slania is poor album, I think it needs to be said that I enjoy the band’s previous approach more. What made Spirit a great album is that it’s a black metal album at it’s core. Now, I love Finntroll and Cruachan, but I can’t say the same for any of their recent releases. As for Slania, well, it might be a step in a different direction for Eluveitie, but it’s still a step forward.

HD RATING: 7/10