Monday, July 11, 2011

Album Review: Aiumeen Basoa - Iraganeko Bide Malkartsutik

Aiumeen Basoa - Iraganeko Bide Malkartsutik

Artist: Aiumeen Basoa (Basque Country, Spain)
Album Title: Iraganeko Bide Malkartsutik
Record Label: Erzsebet Records (Spain)
Released: 2010 (May)
Purchased From: The Omega Order

I had never heard of Aiumeen Basoa before the release of their debut full-length Iraganeko Bide Malkartsutik in 2010, but they've actually been around since 1994. Their only previous release was a 2001 split with related bands Adhur and Ilbeltz. I'm not sure why it took so long for them to release a full-length, but Iraganeko Bide Malkartsutik is evidence that they were not wasting their time.

Aiumeen Basoa is a seven-piece band that features multiple vocalists as well as an accordion player and violinist. There are additional instruments, such as flute and oboe, played by session musicians. It's a pretty big cast of players, reminiscent of such lineups as appeared on Lumsk's Åsmund Frægdegjevar and Ásmegin's Hin Vordende Sod & Sø. And, actually, those two albums aren't a bad jumping off point when attempting to describe the style of Aiumeen Basoa. Nor would be comparisons with ...In The Woods' Omnio or Odroerir's Götterlieder I & II. Think epic, sweeping folk metal with accomplished musicians and great, sometimes layered and harmonized vocals, and you've got an idea of what Aiumeen Basoa sounds like. Additionally, there are some black metal vocals, which sound quite a bit like those of fellow Basque band Numen.

Iraganeko Bide Malkartsutik consists of six tracks that range from six to eleven minutes long. Each track is multifaceted and interesting, with many changes in mood and tempo. I also seem to detect some neoclassical and progressive elements. Despite the presence of black metal vocals, there are few sections of this album that appear to be influenced by black metal, which is something that, by itself, is pretty refreshing in the folk metal genre. The overall atmosphere is pretty calm and reverent, more like a folk album than a metal album. Yet the band excels in each facet of their sound. They don't sound angry or warlike, though there are certainly some aggressive moments scattered throughout.

It is certainly a beautiful album, and one that avoids the accusation of "shallow" that is often hurled at folk metal bands. I have listened to this many times over the last several months and I notice new details each time. The way the band fits so many great ideas into each song is staggering. Take, for example, "Akelarrearen Sua," the fourth track on the album. It begins as a very calm folk song with accordion, flute, and beautiful, layered female vocals. It then erupts into a brief black metal-influenced section, which then turns into mid-paced, folkish sections that feature more great, sung vocals. Then things get a bit proggy while maintaining that folkish atmosphere. Towards the end of the track, there's a jazzy section that was unexpected the first time I listened to it, but even in that jazzy section they're able to throw in these folky guitar and violin parts. My head spins trying to make sense of it all, but it somehow works.

My only real complaint about Iraganeko Bide Malkartsutik is the quality of the production. When there are a lot of elements present at one time, the production seems a little "squashed," like everything melts together a bit too much to easily make out all the individual elements. It's not poor production by any means, but it falls short a bit considering how ambitious the band is. Then again, I listen to music almost exclusively on cheap equipment, so others may not have the same experience. A second, more minor complaint I have is that the black metal vocals are kind of weak. I guess they're not meant to be as imposing or "evil" as typical black metal vocals, but I think they would work better if they were delivered with a bit more force and perhaps a lower register. Deeper growls appear on "Ekaitzaren Begitik,"
but most of the harsh vocals are high-pitched and shrieky.

But, man, the sung vocals are so good. I'm a sucker for good vocal harmonies, and Aiumeen Basoa doesn't have any lack of those. There are both male and female vocals on this album, and they are all delivered with confidence and conviction.

I think Aiumeen Basoa has the kind of sound that would appeal to a wide spectrum of metal fans. There's such a variety of influences in their sound, and they accomplish everything in such a satisfying manner, that it makes Iraganeko Bide Malkartsutik one of those albums I would really like to get the word out about. If I were a better music writer, I think I'd be better able to communicate just how awesome this album is. The band's logo may be incomprehensible, and their language impenetrable to an American such as I, but their music is deeply appealing to me and I have no doubt that this is an album that will always be a treasure among my CD collection.

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