Felled, The Intimate Earth (Transcending Obscurity 2021)

Emerging from an ancient haunted forest with their debut album, Felled entrances with blackened neofolk metal.

Eugene, Oregon is where Felled comes from. After releasing a demo in 2017, they follow up that early work with their first full-length album, The Intimate Earth. The band is Cavan Wagner (guitar and vocals), Brighid Wagner (strings and vocals), Isamu Sato (bass), and Jenn Grunigen (drums and vocals).

The musical style is folk metal, but Felled is unlike the usual band creating this sort of music. From their liberal use of violin and viola to the vocal varieties, the uniqueness of their music is profound.

The opening track is “Ember Dream,” and it begins with a solitary guitar joined in a beautiful melody by bow and string only to be ravaged by a croaking voice and threatening percussion and riffs – it has turned into a melodic black metal song, with a violin accompaniment. Unexpected and memorable.

The other four songs on the album are longer, running between seven and eleven minutes long and taking that time to expand on the ideas presented, exploring the subtleties. “Fire Season on the Outer Rim” listens like a play, with long moments of repose and beautiful voices appearing and disappearing among the recurring metal and journeying violin.

The song I remember most is “Sphagnum in the Hinterlands” for its slow and dooming passages that complement the lighter moments. The final song is “The Salt Binding,” and it is filled with sorrow and melancholy as well as forceful metal elements, finally resolving on a haunting whisper. What Felled is doing here is truly something to behold. Recommended.

The Intimate Earth is out today, July 2nd from Transcending Obscurity Records in a wide variety of formats and with accompanying merch.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://felledblackmetal.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/felledband/

Transcending Obscurity, https://transcendingobscurity.aisamerch.com/

Felled, The Intimate Earth (Transcending Obscurity 2021)

Varmia, bal Lada (M-Theory Audio 2021)

Black Metal comes face to face with Folk traditions in Varmia’s new album, bal Lada.

Pagan Metal might actually be better label than Black Metal for Poland’s Varmia. The use of traditional instruments gives a Folk Metal influence and intonation, but it is more than that – the compositions themselves are affected by the traditional music. The new one is the third full-length album from the band since 2017, and the musicians are Lasota (guitar and vocals), Alle (bass), Svarrge (drums), and Piotr (percussion and traditional instruments).

The sounds of birds and nature are interrupted first by pounding percussion then by a heavy guitar riff in the opening track, “Woanie.” Traditional folk choral voices give way to a gravely metal lead right at the end of the intro device, and the first landscape begins to be revealed with the next track.

The music both combines and vacillates between passages that are consistent with what you might hear from other heavy bands and pagan ritual music, but there is always something different going on in every song – sometimes it is a turn of phrase and sometimes it is a goat horn. The music is undeniably heavy and weighty (not the same thing at all), and the integration of pagan ideals with Black and Death Metal tropes and trials is fascinating.

The traditional elements sometimes come through in a particularly focused way, as with “Upperan.” Even so, the metal never melts away. I get deeper feelings of the darker side of nature in this song particularly. “O” is another excellent example of this, and even more so as I think about it – I have never heard anything like this music. The album captivated me from start to finish. Recommended.

Bal Lada drops this Friday, March 12th and can be accessed at Bandcamp. More information can be had at the M-Theory Audio website (link below).

Links.

Bandcamp, https://varmiaband.bandcamp.com/album/bal-lada

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/varmiaband/

Label, https://www.m-theoryaudio.com/

Varmia, bal Lada (M-Theory Audio 2021)

Korpiklaani, Jylhä (Nuclear Blast Records 2021)

For almost twenty years, Korpiklaani has been a prominent driving force in the Folk Metal music world, and now they are releasing their eleventh full-length studio album, Jylhä.

It all started with Spirit of the Forest in 2003 and there has been a steady creative flow ever since. The band is from Finland and while there are folk fusion amalgams from many musical traditions all over the globe, there is something that makes this particular folk music the perfect building block for a heavy music combination. Or maybe it is just that the musicians in Korpiklaani are among the very best at what they do, which is certainly true as well. The band is Cane (guitar and vocals), Jonne Järvelä (vocals, guitars, multiple folk instruments), Jarkko Aaltonen (bass), Tuomas Rounakari (violin), Sami Perttula (accordion), and Samuli Mikkonen (drums).

The music begins big in guitars with “Verikoira,” laying down a catchy, quick rhythm for the more traditionally folk elements to surround. The accordion takes the lead on the second track, “Niemi,” at the gate, but the guitar is never far away. The blending of metal and traditional instruments and melody is, after all, the point. Each song has its own look and life, casting a vast array of colors and spells throughout the thirteen songs on the album.

The music on the album is very up-tempo and vibrant, and even on quieter pieces with less riffage (like “Leväluhta”) the metal does not completely disappear. There is always an elegant balance across the diversity of musical structure so that neither primary force is lost to the other. You want to hear this music for that balance, to get the rare elements that don’t typically exist in heavy music while maintaining the adrenaline and drive of metal. That is exactly what comes through in every track. Recommended.

You can pick up the CD and digital download of Jylhä on Friday February 5th. The vinyl versions are a little bit delayed because of the pandemic – they will be out in March.

Links.

Website, https://korpiklaani.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/korpiklaani

Nuclear Blast Records, https://www.nuclearblast.de/label/music/band/news/uebersicht/71067.korpiklaani.html

Korpiklaani, Jylhä (Nuclear Blast Records 2021)

Balothizer, Cretan Smash review (Louvana Records 2020)

The sophomore album from Balothizer is a heavy fusion of folk music from Crete and sturdy metal influences making the title of the set spot on.

The band is Pav Mav (bass and vocals), Nikos Ziarkas (electric lute), and Steve J. Payne (drums). The band explains that their music for the new album starts with “Cretan folk songs, either for their melodies, historic and regional idioms, potent lyrics, rhythms, patterns or dances” and combines or transforms them into modern metal fusion pieces. This is somewhat different from the approach of their first album in that the new one is heavier, utilizing an electric lute (that’s right) rather than acoustic executions. The result is astonishing.

This music is not like Folk Metal you hear from Scandinavia. It is more in the lane of System of a Down, but Balothizer’s approach is more deeply rooted in the tunes and rhythms of the traditional music they are celebrating. The application of modern instruments and sound does not separate from the roots but it does grow a different branch. The attitude and posture is punk while the reverence for the underlying traditional music is never trampled.

“Jegaman” leaps at you with a fierce speed and relentlessness that grabs your attention immediately. “Peace” emerges slowly with percussion and an echoed voice, then the electric lute kicks in and we are off to a different place. “Aleppo” is the noisiest track, brimming with angular musical leverage and clanking assertions. And then a song like “Anathema” has a quiet beginning, a melancholy feel that evolves over its ten minute path into a bigger, louder call. All of these separate approaches are necessary to complete the full message of the album. The music is very different compared to most other heavy acts – it is a refreshing and welcome listen. Recommended.

Cretan Smash is out now. Check out the available versions at the label link below. Also Bandcamp.

Band photo by Andreas Christophides.

Links.

Band Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Balothizer

Bandcamp, https://balothizer.bandcamp.com/album/cretan-smash

Label, https://www.louvanarecords.com/store#!/Balothizer/

Balothizer, Cretan Smash review (Louvana Records 2020)

Grendel’s Sÿster, Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

The Myrtle Wreath EP from Grendel’s Sÿster gets a well-deserved broad re-release with Cruz Del Sur Music.

Everybody knows that Grendel’s mother was the one to watch out for, but nobody knows what to expect from his sister. That’s how I felt dropping the (virtual) needle on Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz. – I hadn’t heard any of the band’s work before. They are a Folk Metal trio from Germany. This EP came out in 2019 and is getting wider distribution now. They also released an EP in 2018: Orphic Gold Leaves/Orphische Goldblättchen.

The thing about Folk Metal for me is that I have a short list of bands I like. Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Týr, a few others. I am not a deep diver in these waters, so I do not have a learned opinion. I just know whether I like what I hear. I really like Myrtenkranz.

There are seven songs and an intro bit, and they are presented in two versions each – one in English and one in German. I have a strong and abiding preference for the versions in German. No, I don’t speak German. To my ear singing in German simply sounds better with the music. Grendel’s Sÿster does not sound anything like the bands I listed, really. They are very much on the Folk side of Folk Metal. Plainly, it is like listening to folk songs that employ (fuzzy) electric guitars for instruments. The vocals are beautifully melodic and clear. Beyond traditional Folk constructions, many of the songs have the epic and march urgency heard in music from bands like Falconer, but not as loud. Lead guitar expressions are also low key and tastefully executed. This is a great album for when you are not in the mood to have your block knocked completely off. Recommended.

The physicals start shipping September 25, and the digital is available now at Bandcamp and elsewhere. The first EP Orphic Gold Leaves is not on Spotify (last time I looked) and the hardcopies are sold out, but you can still get the English vocal version as a download.

Links.

https://grendelssyster.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/blog/

https://cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com/

Grendel’s Sÿster, Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Ensiferum, Thalassic review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Ensiferum celebrates 25 years of music with a new album, Thalassic – a Folk Metal epic tale told in heavy sea shanties.

I read that “Ensiferum” is Latin for something like “sword-bearing,” and that “Thalassic” is Greek for “relating to the seas,” so I do now definitely understand why the band’s music has often been called Viking Metal. Still, the broader Folk Metal label usually gets applied to them, placing the band among the storied list of famous acts like Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Amon Amarth, and stands with recent releases like this year’s Falconer album. It is a big tent, and this manner of metal music has legions of fans. Ensiferum brings out the heavy from every angle in Thalassic, the band’s first actual themed album.

The Helsinki band has been making music for two and a half decades, and has gone through many line-up changes and rearrangements throughout their journey. The current band is Sami Hinkka (bass and vocals), Markus Toivonen (guitar and vocals), Petri Lindroos (guitar and vocals), and Janne Parviainen (drums), with Pekka Montin (clean vocals and keyboards) contributing to the studio recording.

The maritime musical gets started with a sweeping orchestral opener, then dives straight into seafaring metal. “Rum, Women, Victory” is an anthem style radio song that alternates between gruff and clean vocals that ride along the waves of roiling guitars and peppering drums. The pace is fast and urgent, and, you can tell from the title, light hearted. This one is going to be a singalong at live shows for sure. The Greek mythology themes start to emerge with “Andromeda,” which takes a more serious and somber tone, opening the way for the full tale to be told. The production is front stage in this album, with a big full sound, a generous use of keyboards, and many moments of relief that keep the music and story moving along. It is designed to be theatrical and they pull it off well. The concept is fully realized and fans of the band and fantasy metal music are going to love this album.

Thalassic is available now from Metal Bade Records in many forms and functionalities. If you are looking for a big sound and a maritime mythology story to go along with it, Ensiferum has your number.

Links.

http://www.facebook.com/Ensiferum

http://www.ensiferum.com

http://www.metalblade.com/ensiferum

Ensiferum, Thalassic review (Metal Blade Records 2020)