Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Album Review: Dalriada - Ígéret

Dalriada - Ígéret

Artist: Dalriada (Hungary)
Album Title: Ígéret
Record Label: AFM Records (Germany)
Released: 2011 (February)
Purchased from: Ebay

Okay, before I start my review, take a moment to look at that album cover. One of the unique things about folk metal is that an album cover featuring a field of flowers really doesn't seem all that strange. How many genres of metal can you say that about? Maybe some power metal, possibly. Then there's Opeth's cover for Orchid. But really, the typical metal image of "evil" is really done away when you look at an album cover like that of Dalriada's Ígéret. And there's something kind of refreshing about that. Anyway, this has nothing to do with the rest of the review, so ignore this entire first paragraph if you wish.

I've reviewed the last three Dalriada albums over the last few years and I consider myself to be a huge fan of their music. The fact that, in the past, I've only had one consistent source from which to buy their CD's (a Hungarian seller on Ebay) has made me wonder with each of their albums I was able to obtain that there might come a day when I would be unable to legally purchase Dalriada CD's at all. So with each review of their latest album, my only real complaint has been that they need to land on a label with better worldwide distribution. Naturally, then, I was overjoyed to find that their latest CD, Ígéret, was released on AFM Records, a German label with very good distribution, because now hopefully I will not have to worry about whether or not I can get my hands on future releases from the band. Also, their signing to a label like AFM means hopefully more exposure and better promotion for the band that I feel is one of the more underrated folk metal bands in Europe. Things are looking up for one of Hungary's best-kept secrets, and that makes me happy.

Ígéret arrived about fifteen months after their previous album, the excellent Arany-Album, which is a pretty typical turnaround time for Dalriada, who has now released six full-length albums under this name and their previous name, Echo of Dalriada, since 2004. Just as impressive as how prolific this band is, is that every album starting with 2006's Jégbontó has been pretty amazing (even their 2004 debut, Fergeteg, is pretty good). Fortunately, Ígéret does not break this streak of great albums.

The album begins with a folk song, but I don't know what the source of it is. As the track fades in, I hear what seems like a scratchy record sound, so I don't know if this piece was taken from a previously existing folk recording or if the "scratchy record sound" is just an effect, as midway through the track the sound becomes crystal clear. I suspect, therefore, that this is an original piece to the album, though the song itself may not have been written by the band. At any rate, the album properly begins with the second track, "Hajdútánc." This song is awesome, what can I say? It's catchy and fun, and, most surprisingly of all, for the first time lead vocalist Laura Binder shrieks as well as sings. Laura has long been one of my favorite female vocalists in pagan metal, with a voice that isn't quite power metal and isn't quite folk, but something unique. In the past, the black metal shrieks were always performed by guitarist András Ficzek or, more recently, drummer Tadeusz Rieckmann, but here Laura proves to have a pretty wicked sounding shriek as well, sounding not like Masha Scream (Arkona) or Rodonitsa (Ruyan) but more like Kriegtalith (Darkestrah). However, Laura keeps the harsh vocals to a minimum, and they only seem to appear on this track as well as "Leszek A Hold" (growls do appear elsewhere on the album, but not from Laura). The band recorded a pretty great music video for this song as well; I recommend checking it out.

One of the improvements Dalriada made to their sound beginning with 2009's Arany-Album was the addition of various folk musicians to flesh out the sound. While in the past the band has introduced folk instruments that would disappear with the next release (ie: the flute on Jégbontó or the violin on Kikelet), happily this time they've returned, and the various stringed instruments and even a harmonica on "Hozd el, Isten" add nicely to the sound. Not that Dalriada is the type of band to rely on the novelty of traditional instruments to make up for any deficiencies of their own, as this is a band known for its talent and tight musicianship. The sound of Dalriada is difficult to describe, as they feature elements of power metal, black metal, and occasionally even doom metal. But comparisons with other bands are pretty difficult because I haven't been able to find another band that sounds at all close to Dalriada. Perhaps it's the way they incorporate traditional Hungarian melodies into their sound, or the way they blend their influences into something completely their own, but, regardless, Dalriada is Dalriada.

Another strong element to their sound is the harmonizing of vocals. Mostly it's Laura harmonizing with András, but here we have a number of choruses that feature a lot of voices in the mix, sometimes with a low growl in the background (as is the case with "Mennyei Harang"). Add in some great drumming, the occasional guitar or keyboard solo, excellent folk instruments, and those awesome and unique melodies, and you've got a folk metal album that should appeal to many.

As for highlights on the album, other than "Hajdútánc," as I already mentioned, I particularly enjoyed "Igazi Tûz," mainly due to its wonderful and catchy chorus, and a particularly nice guitar solo. Both of these tracks are certainly in my top 10 Dalriada songs of all time. Another highlight is "Leszek A Hold," the last proper song on the album (unless you count the short outro). Besides the catchy chorus and beautiful violin solo, this track also features a guest appearance by Korpiklaani vocalist Jonne Järvelä. He appears to sing in his native Finnish, and even does some joiking and possibly even throat singing here.

Not every track is a winner, as there are some that aren't as interesting as the others. A few of the tracks are more rooted in black or doom metal, with a lot of harsh vocals, and these didn't appeal to me as much. After the very consistent Arany-Album, I'd say Ígéret doesn't quite maintain its greatness on every track as that album did. However, past Dalriada albums have always had a handful of songs that didn't work as well as others, and with a band that utilizes so many different styles within their overall sound, it's natural that songs that emphasize one particular facet of their sound may not appeal to each listener as much as songs that emphasize other facets. All in all, I'd say this is a great release from the band and a worthy release to serve as their introduction to a wider audience. Hopefully their earlier releases will also see wider distribution, because more people should hear this band and be able to purchase their albums.

I've been listening to Dalriada for about four and a half years now, and so far they have yet to ever let me down. Though Ígéret will likely not be my favorite album of theirs, it is only because they have consistently managed to release great albums, and this is one that stands proudly with the rest of their discography even if it doesn't quite manage to top everything else they've done. I am glad that the band has found new opportunities and I hope that they will make the most of them. After seeing a number of lesser bands find big record deals when the "folk metal trend" as at its zenith, it's good to see a worthy band like Dalriada finally get their break. Hopefully good things are ahead for this talented group.

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