Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'm baaaaack! With another album review...

To anyone that reads my blog, yeah, it's been a while. Life has a way of coming up with little annoyances, housework, deadlines and all sorts of fun stuff that makes someone who enjoys writing want to grab a double of whiskey and basically state, "fark you all, this is MY time and I shall waste it jotting down whatever I bloody well please". Or substitute your libation of choice on that end.

Enough with the excuses and kvetching...on with the show!

Metal is one of my favorite genres of the music world. It gets to a point where my collection becomes rather nerdy (yes, as you can see by my blog title, it fits) in terms of the breadth and randomness of the metal found within my playlist. Some headbanging folks choose to immerse themselves in one subgenre of the many, I tend to like most of them, yes, even a bit of "hair" metal. There is such a variety within the genre in terms of style, musicality and the different appeals that each brings to the table. There is no empirical "brand" of metal, no matter how some might rage that one band or another fails to meet his or her criteria on what metal "should" be. Death Metal is not Celtic Metal, Celtic Metal is not Doom Metal, or Speed Metal, etc. but, on occasion, the subgenres make one sweet, brutal slurry that transcends any stylistic differences or qualms that one listener may have about either subgenre.

One of my favorite bands in that particular category is Suidakra, what I suppose someone could classify as "Blackened Celtic Metal". A brief explanation for all my friends out there not familiar with the particulars, Black Metal utilizes such devices as harsh, screeching vocals, pagan themes in the lyrical content, "blast beat" drumming (think of machine-gun paced beats), and some distortion with the guitars. Some of these influences, as well as more melodic and progessive devices, clean vocal harmonies, harmonizing solos, etc. appear in the "blackened" varieties of metal, and in the celtic variety, you find foot-tapping, spinning Irish reels, at times a lively, folk-song chorus, and the use of traditional instruments, whistles, bagpipes and fiddles or banjos.

Suidakra make great use of all these elements in their March 2011 release, The Book of Dowth. Influences by a darker side of the Celtic mythos, it tells the tale of the Fomorians, god-like beings in the lore that may have represented the chaos of nature or pre-Celtic deities of their adopted homelands. Giants and usually represented as the villains pitted against the Tuatha De Danann, their fall is documented in this album by the hands of the Celtic gods of man. Their spirits are sealed away in the Book by the Tuatha De and buried for the good of the world, until they are unwittingly set free by an archaeology student excavating the real tomb in Ireland (Dubhadh). As they are unleashed upon mankind, they bring about an apocalyptic end to the world as we know it, creating an Otherworld in this and colliding it with the other side of the veil of mortality, Mag Mell, so they can begin their cycle of rule.

Cheerful stuff, eh? Nevertheless, Suidakra make this a good romp and an interesting listen. They begin in true epic fashion with a crescendoing bagpipe solo that accompanies charging guitar riffs in "Over Nine Waves", blasting into "Dowth 2059" highlighting the shocking discovery by the archaeology student as he recognizes the horrible fate that his curiosity has wrought upon the world. "Battle-Cairns", "Bir-og's Oath", and "Mag Mell", tell of the struggles between the Tuatha De and the Fomorians and their travels into the West to the realm of fallen warriors. The acoustic, sonorous "Mag Mell" might fool the unknowing listener into thinking this a different band entirely, showing off the gentler, lyrical musicianship of Arkadius and his bandmates, and, while I don't particularly count that as a favorite, I enjoy the change-up in the pace and style.

The listener, after the calm, reflective "Mag Mell", is jerked back into the brutality that Suidakra can generate with "The Dark Mound", a tale from the perspective of a druid that ruled and enslaved the people of Erin after being possessed by a Fomorian spirit, his punishment was to be imprisoned with the Fomorians in the namesake Dark Mound. "Balor" continues the assault, recounting the destruction wrought by the return of a Fomorian king who could kill with the power of his extra eye, situated in the back of his head, so no one could take him by surprise. All metallers who appreciate "epicness" will have fanboi/girl moments on this one, where Arkadius gives us his most rolling, epic death-growl at 2:00, followed up by a sweeping, spinning riff that mimics the chaos and speed of battle.

I'd have to say that it's a hard contest between the previously mentioned two tracks and "Stone of the Seven Suns" that have become my favorites. "Stone" begins with a lively banjo, doling out a stomping reel, accompanied by a chorus that could give "Whiskey In the Jar" a good run for a pub song. The former is just as powerful in the lyrical content as the latter, speaking of battles and determination, and a vow to end the conflict at whatever cost. "Fury Fomoraigh" is a gesture of pure rage, plunder and pillage from the view of the Fomorians, they are free to scourge the world now to make it their own, with no De Danann to stop them as they sweep across the earth. "Otherworlds Collide" is the last painful, lamenting acoustic farewell to life and all as we know it.

Overall, I, and I'd believe other fans of the band, would be quite thrilled with this story-telling and craftsmanship shown in this album. Epic and thoughtful, while still showing all facets of the band and their abilities, it manages to show even the most doubting listener that metal can be more than growling vocals and brutal lyrics, but it's still fun when those elements come together, too.

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