Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Album Review: Slavland - "Echa Wieków Pradawnych"

Slavland - Echa Wieków Pradawnych

Artist: Slavland (Poland)
Album Title: Echa Wieków Pradawnych
Label: Eastside (Poland)
Released: 2007

Although many pagan metal fans have just recently discovered Slavland, Echa Wieków Pradawnych is actually his sixth album. Only the last three of his albums are readily available, as the first three were either self-released or had very limited distribution. The one-man project of Belzagor has been gaining a following over the past few years since signing with the great Polish label Eastside, so hopefully the older albums will see a re-issue someday.

Anyway, Slavland came to my attention in the summer of 2006, when I purchased the CD Szepty Starych Dębów very inexpensively from Drakkar in France. I was immediately drawn to the folk sections of the album, but the extremely raw and underproduced black metal (and Belzagor's vocals) initially put me off. After a few solid listens, though, I wised up and became a fan of his music, soon purchasing the 2006 album (and now one of my favorite pagan metal CD's) Tarcza Swaroga ("Swarog's Shield"). I was greatly anticipating the release of Echa Wieków Pradawnych, and it didn't disappoint me.

Belzagor is one talented multi-instrumentalist; that much is obvious to me. On this album, he not only handles all the guitar, bass, and drums, but also a long list of traditional instruments. I'm not sure what all of them are, but there are a number of flutes, bagpipes, percussion, and stringed instruments on this, as well as other, Slavland albums. The live drums are an element that are new to this release. On previous Slavland albums (at least the two that I have), Belzagor used a weak-sounding drum machine, so this new element is welcome. The metal sections of the album are still somewhat under-produced, though, but there have been improvements since Tarcza Swaroga.

Slavland is a bit of a difficult band to get into, even to seasoned veterans of the folk and pagan metal scenes. It combines very raw and aggressive black metal (complete with the shrieking vocals) with strong folk elements. Many fans of black metal will not welcome the folk sound, while many fans of folk metal will not enjoy the raw black metal sound. However, for fans of both (and the open-minded), Slavland's music is unique and very cool. I love the way the songs transition between and sometimes blend the disparate metal and folk elements, though it was something I had to get used to, admittedly.

Another feature that will take some getting used to, even to long-time Slavland fans, are the frequent sung (as in, not shrieked) vocals on the album. Belzagor has always sung at times on his albums, but on Echa Wieków Pradawnych it is obvious that he is trying to incorporate them into the Slavland sound even more. Whether or not that was a good idea is up to the individual listener. Sung vocals are fine, but Belzagor's singing voice is, well, an acquired taste. He's not always on-key, and he tends to use a fake vibrato at the end of phrases. Once I got used to his style, though, I can't imagine the songs without those vocals. Strange or not, they are an important part of the sound (as well as the charm).

There are twelve tracks on the CD, but half of them are folk songs without any metal elements. Some of these folk tracks have vocals, but some are instrumentals. They are certainly not filler, though, as they are written, assembled, and performed with great care and quality, and I wouldn't remove a single one of them from the album. The remaining songs are metal, but with frequent folk parts, and none of the songs escape without any folk elements, so those of you who don't like that side of Slavland are going to be out of luck. He packs a lot of great music into the 50 minutes or so that makes up Echa Wieków Pradawnych, so the album should be quite satisfying to fans of true folk metal.

Though I wouldn't put Echa Wieków Pradawnych quite as high on my list as Tarcza Swaroga, it is a very solid follow-up that also finds Slavland in a state of progression and improvement. The production could still improve quite a bit, but the metal parts no longer seem as if they were transferred from a low-bitrate sound file, and the live drums certainly add a needed "punch" to the sound. Slavland is also continuing to improve in the way the metal and folk elements blend and add to each other. It makes me very optimistic and excited about the future of the project.

If you have overlooked Slavland up until this point, I recommend you check it out and give it a solid chance.

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