Friday, November 2, 2007

What I was listening to in October instead of updating this blog...

I have many excuses for why I didn't update this blog through most of October. For one thing, the Half-Life 2 Orange Box was released, so I spent some time trying to play through Half-Life 2 again so that I could start episodes 1 and 2. Team Fortress 2 took some time, as did my attempt to finish Bioshock (which I'm not done with yet). I also re-joined my old black metal band at the end of October, though that doesn't excuse the rest of the month.

However, the biggest reason why I didn't update the blog was that I was too busy listening to a lot of new CD purchases from October. I will list a few of those CD's here.

Alkonost - Alkonost

Alkonost (Russia) - Alkonost (2002 Ketzer Records [Germany] / Beverina Productions [Latvia])

Before the very talented Alena decided to lend her operatic voice to Alkonost, the folk metal band featured the harsh vocals of Alex "Nightbird" almost exclusively. You can still hear him on newer Alkonost releases, but not nearly as much (except for Песни Вечного Древа, which I'll address in a bit). This self-titled 2002 release also featured lyrics in English instead of their native Russian, as well as more raw production and a somewhat harsher sound altogether.

Alkonost actually consists of the mini-album Songs of the Eternal Oak and the demo "Spirit Tending To Revolt." Much of this was re-recorded for the 2007 release Песни Вечного Древа (romanized as Pesni Vechnogo Dreva), which consists of mostly superior versions of these songs. Therefore, it's difficult to recommend this release over that one. However, it's an interesting look at a young band that showed great promise.

Alkonost - Песни Вечного Древа

Alkonost (Russia) - Песни Вечного Древа (2007 Metalism Records [Russia])

Keeping track of Alkonost releases has proven to be difficult for me. Not knowing Russian is one part of the problem, and the fact that they have been going back and re-recording their older songs with new Russian lyrics is a bigger part. Песни Вечного Древа is basically a partial re-recording of their 2002 self-titled album. I enjoy the newer Alkonost albums I have, but this one is probably my favorite, as it is dominated by the vocals of Alex "Nightbird." New lead vocalist Alena shows up once in a while, and there are some nice guest vocals on track 5 by Ilya from Svarga and Alexandr from Rarog (the Russian bands, not be confused with the Ukrainian NS pagan metal band Svarga or the Polish folk metal project Rarog).

I enjoy Alena's vocals, but Alex has a great harsh voice. If you like Alkonost but lean towards the harsh male vocals as opposed to the soprano operatic vocals of Alena, this is definitely an album you need to check out. This album features a re-recording of "My Last Day" and is my favorite version of my favorite Alkonost song. The argument can be (and has been) made that Alkonost songs mostly sound the same, with similar keyboard sounds and musical style. That's somewhat true, and it's also true that they would benefit from some traditional instruments, but they're a solid and very accessible band in the realm of folk metal, and I like them a great deal.

Carved in Stone - Tales of Glory & Tragedy

Carved In Stone (Germany) - Tales of Glory & Tragedy (2007 Schwarzdorn [Germany])

Okay, I actually ended up getting this CD at the very end of October, as it was not released until the 26th of the month (thank you to Dark Symphonies for getting a few copies in immediately; you guys continue to rock!). But I listened to this quite a bit in the last few days of October, as this was an album that I was anticipating with great interest.

Carved In Stone is a solo pagan folk project of Swawa (Ilona Jeschke), who is connected to the metal scene due to her involvement in the Viking metal band Taunusheim. Her 2004 album Hear the Voice is one that I've spun countless times in the past year or year-and-a-half since I bought it. It's a difficult album to follow up, in my opinion. I love its mystical melodies, the fuzzy recording quality of the guitar, the proud lyrics, and, most of all, Swawa's enchanting vocals.

Fortunately, those things are all present on this album, and there also some nice choir-style vocals. Once again, her songs are in German, English, and what I think is Norwegian. She managed to deliver a fine follow-up to Hear the Voice, though so far I do not feel that Tales of Glory & Tragedy is quite as good as its predecessor. Still, if you like pagan neo-folk music, either of Carved in Stone's albums are great choices. I'm certain that her debut MCD is great as well, but unfortunately I have yet to find or hear it.

Drudkh - Estrangement

Drudkh (Ukraine) - Estrangement (2007 Supernal Music [England])

Estrangement is certain to be another controversial Drudkh album. With every release, there is an inevitable backlash from metal fans who feel that Drudkh is terribly overrated, or from Drudkh fans who wish that they had gone in a different direction. I've already seen many comments and reviews from people in both those categories. Personally, I love Estrangement. It's not a continuation of Blood In Our Wells (perhaps the most acclaimed of Drudkh's albums), nor is it a return to any of their older styles. It's not as epic as Blood In Our Wells, which initially disappointed me a bit, and it doesn't have as "thick" a sound in the guitars as their previous albums. To me, it sounds closest to their 2005 album The Swan Road, which to me is not at all a bad thing, though thankfully they don't sound as if they are simply recycling old material (many will disagree).

An element of the album that will likely annoy many listeners is the drums. The snare has a sound that kind of irritated me until I got used to it, and I'm not sure I like the blastbeats very much. However, I like the fact that they sound more "live" than on previous albums. Also, the guitars seem to have more texture to them; they're not simply a wall of sound. I can occasionally hear acoustic strumming behind them, which is something you'd hear a lot on early Drudkh albums. I can also hear the bass. What has thankfully not changed are the proud but melancholy melodies. They aren't quite as "epic" on this album, but they're every bit as good as on previous albums. The guitar solos make a return, and sound great, especially on the instrumental track that closes the album.

A fine album from one of the best bands in the genre.

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Rarog (Russia) - I Know the God (2006 SvaSound Records [Russia])

Okay, the actual title is in Russian, with Cyrillic letters, but it's difficult to find any information about this album, so this will have to do for now. Even doesn't have an entry for them. Rarog plays pagan folk metal with a mix of clean vocals (male and female) and harsh male vocals. The clean vocals are often nicely harmonized, which adds a nice flavor to the album. There are also some occasional acoustic passages. Overall their sound reminds me of early Odroerir. They recording is kind of raw, but the beauty is able to come through anyway. There are no traditional instruments, however; the folkish melodies are done on guitar and on keyboard.

This album was a pleasant surprise for me. I bought it because the listing mentioned that they would appeal to fans of Pagan Reign and Arkona. There was probably only a few seconds between when I read that and when I clicked "Buy." I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I got was a refreshing and unique folk metal album. They're not the best band out there, but if you like bands like Odroerir and don't mind some black metal mixed in (yes, I know that Odroerir had a bit of black metal on their first album...), Rarog is a band worth checking out. Hopefully we will hear more from them in the years to come.

Svarrogh - Kukeri

Svarrogh (Bulgaria) - Kukeri (2006 Heavy Horses Records [Germany])

Dimo Dimov is a Bulgarian who now resides in Germany, but pays tribute to his native land through the folk/black metal project Svarrogh. Actually, the latest releases from this band seem to be completely folk/ambient, without any traces of metal, but I'm not absolutely sure as I have not been able to track down very much from this band. I almost avoided this album because I figured it was typical black metal, but fortunately I listened to some samples and realized that it was something much more than that.

Svarrogh's sound (on this album, at least) is very difficult to describe while doing any justice to the music. There are some electronic, somewhat industrial moments. And there are many raw black metal moments. However, the dominant style on this album is folk, and, refreshingly, rather than being played entirely on synth, there are actual traditional instruments used, like mandolin, bagpipes, and kaval-pipe. The vocals are often delivered in a black metal rasp, sometimes distorted, but there are also a lot of clean, often folkish, vocals.

Because he mixes raw black metal with a strong folk presence, I'm tempted to compare Svarrogh to one of my favorite bands in the genre, Slavland, but Svarrogh has an entirely unique sound. Kukeri is a fascinating listen, and I'm discovering more about it every time I listen to it. Recommended if you have an open mind and are looking for something unique within the genre of pagan folk metal.

I had some other albums I was thinking about adding, but I'm not sure I've listened to them enough yet. Albums from Marblebog, Primordial, North, Perunica, Elffor, and others have been on my playlist this month. Maybe I'll talk about them another time.

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