SpellBlast - Of Gold And Guns

Genre: Folk Metal, Power Metal

A show of hands for those who can say they’ve ever given SpellBlast more than a few minutes of attention in one sitting. The air is now emptier’n a prairie at high noon or some other mumbo jumbo with western words in it, because no one has done that. The Italian band has always been that standard folk power metal band that’s been unable to reach the levels of the likes of Elvenking in their folksier tunes, while their power metal antics have been shadowed by giants such as Rhapsody and Orden Ogan; songs about battle and glory blended with ye olde folk melodies out of the textbook. Apparently that’s about to change as they change the focus of their most recent outing, Of Gold And Guns, to the American wild west. It goes without saying that such a transformation needs to be felt in the overall sound; there has to be touches of Americana strewn across the runtime, while retaining the band’s original sound.Orden Ogan accomplished this on their latest album, giving it a distinct western flair. SpellBlast does not.

SpellBlast - Of Gold And Guns

The sound isn't as refined as it'd need, and the occasional banjo strumming doesn’t sell the illusion when vocalist Dest Ring sounds as far from an outlaw gunslinger as possible. His Italian accent is thicker’n gravy and his style decidedly European. A ‘yee-haw’ or two here and there doesn’t help either. Most of the tracks are named after historical figures from the American mid to late 19th century, such as Wyatt Earp, Jesse James and Sitting Bull, and the songs, moving quickly from one figure to another instead of building on some lore throughout, feel about as deep as the paragraph of a Wikipedia entry, which is sad when there is plenty of interesting events from the era to make interesting music about. There are a few exceptions, though the effect is nowhere near as big as it needs to be; Sitting Bull has a neat intro and a rhythm section that (albeit fairly stagnant) conjures the right setting, but then the entire song is so anti-climactic that after four minutes you’re just left there wondering where the song went, because it certainly wasn’t anywhere exciting.

And that’s how you can basically describe every single song on the album (and let’s not even get into the suck fest that is the closing ballad Wanted Dead Or Alive). Ring’s vocals toward the would-be zenith of each song just sound bored and the epic guitars or orchestrations are totally absent. The detriment of this album is that it’s so dull, grey and middle of the road that it’s almost unbelievable. The would-be mid tempo rompers end up just slowly plodding and the attempts at faster numbers just feel derivative and sub standard. There is no emotion behind a single note, everything’s just phoned in. A few enjoyable tracks and neat melodic pieces can be found, but that’s about it, and far from enough to make the entire 45 minutes worthwhile. Goblins In Deadwood has a neat saloon-y sound and a cheesy flair, with piano trilling and delivers with a smile and a fresh sounding rhythm section. It’s the best track on here, and even it is a decent song at best. Of Gold And Guns just isn’t a good album. A song or two could be called acceptable for what they are, but won't be good for anything more than an occasional future replay. The rest will have you slidin' away slicker'n slime on a doorknob.

 

Standout tracks: Jesse James, Goblins In Deadwood

 

    

 

SpellBlast - Wyatt Earp

Elvenking - Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire

Genre: Folk Metal, Power Metal

Som ur ingenstans kommer insikten att den italienska folk power metal-konstellationen blivit något av en institution inom sitt fält. De har ändå funnits i tjugo år och sedan början av 2000-talet släppt åtta album av varierande kvalitet; det var inte förrän 2010 och Red Silent Tides som Elvenking verkligen släppte en platta värd tiden, och det dröjde till 2014 och The Pagan Manifesto innan de verkade ha hittat sin absolut rätta form med magnifik blandning mellan flödande melodisk power metal och eklektiska folk-element och mysticism. Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire är den nionde fullängdaren i ordningen och tycks närmast plocka upp där The Pagan Manifesto avslutade. Det blir redan från första lyssningen uppenbart hur bekväma Elvenking är i det de gör; låtskrivandet är mognat och inte bundet till de traditionella ställningarna. Storslagna refränger som på föregångaren har tonats ner för smått mer progressiva byggnader och låtstrukturer som inte lutar helt på starka refränger; materialet känns genomgående starkare än någonsin.

Elvenking - Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire

Inte heller är Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire lika lätt och luftig som The Pagan Manifesto var på sina ställen, på gott och ont. Den tycks hämta mer från mörka legender och ockulta myter; paganistiskt mörker och den dunkla sidan av deras folklore-exploration genom starka, intressanta texter och en i vanlig ordning själfull inlevelse från Davide ’Damnagoras’ Moras. Vidare lyckas Federico ’Aydan’ Baston och Raffaello ’Rafahel’ Indri lyckas lägga in några maffiga riffsessioner, framför allt i mer gitarrbaserade låtar som A Grain Of Truth och inledande Invoking The Woodland Spirit, och ett par rafflande solon. Men de är inte de musikaliskt ledande inom sextetten. I stort sett är det vad en kunnat förvänta sig av Elvenking i det hänseendet; istället är det Aydans keyboards och Fabio ’Lethien’ Polos violin som sätter det folk-inspirerade ledmotivet. De har dessutom blandat in en del growls, för första gången på tio år. Det core-inspirerade debaclet The Scythe (2007) var ju på många sätt ett misslyckande (trots några pärlor), men den har inte mycket annat gemensamt med Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire.

Här gästar Angus Norder (Witchery, Nekrokraft) samt svenske semilegenden Snowy Shaw (Notre Dame, ex- Dream Evil). De ger Damnagoras en ytterligare dimension, men ser också att denne inte får fullt utrymme att släppa ut sin förtvivlan när det kanske behövts. Draugen’s Maelstrom är en fenomenal låt, hemsökande mörk, men frågan är om Norders growls var nödvändiga i refrängen; inte för att de gör låten sämre, utan för att Damnagoras kunnat göra det lika bra själv. Albumet tappar momentum - och det ganska rejält - efter at A Grain Of Truth tonat ut, till synes i förtid. Följer gör då tre långsamma, tomma utfyllnadsspår, innan plattan tar upp farten (bildligt talat) med The Voynich Manuscript. Avslutningen visar sig dock lika stor och hårdslagande som början, och fullbordar på så vis med styrka och integritet ett album som, om den får lite tid, med största säkerhet kan visa sig vara Elvenkings bästa hittills. Den senaste tidens italienska power-släpp har varit mediokritet på mediokritet, från Secret Sphere till Labyrinth till allehanda pseudo-intelligenta, själlösa plattor här och var. Elvenking sticker ut med något av det bästa som släppts i år och på mycket länge; den blir bara bättre och bättre.

 

Bästa låtar: Invoking The Woodland Spirit, Draugen’s Maelstrom, At The Court Of The Wild Hunt

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Elvenking - Draugen's Maelstrom

Chrysilia - Et in Arcadia Ego

Genre: Folk Metal, Symphonic Metal

Maybe it’s just me, but some tunes just seem to be made for the made for a rainy, dreary autumn afternoon; rain beating on the windows, sky grey and darkening. Chrysilia and their debut album Et in Arcadia Ego certainly fits this category, though in no negative sense of the word “dreary”. The Greek outfit blends symphonic metal with folk themes and a mythological dreamscape, brought to life by vocalist Chryso’s powerful voice and presence. Straight out of opening track By the Gates of Ypsus there seems to be no stopping the immersion brought about by the talented musicianship and thoughtful songwriting that focus not so much on the heavy side of metal, but on the sweeping melodics of classical music and the emotive performance by Chryso. If you are not incredibly picky about the amount of metal in your metal, Et in Arcadia Ego will prove to deliver.

Chrysilia - Et in Arcadia Ego

The symphonic keyboards never really take the upper hand, but rather play a role similar to those of Odysseas’s violin presence, bringing about melodic tinges and great, whirling melodic leads. The instrumental buildup in title track; dense, slow war drums set with an increasing violin melody and atmospheric keyboards just ooze epicness, like the calm before the battle. Then the twist comes, and it’s even deeper, no blast into full force, but an instrumental piece that builds onward with the drums and keys being the main focus - put this track over a war epic like Braveheart and it will not feel out of place. Still, it works best as a mid piece to halve the album lest it become overwhelming, while as a standalone track it might not do best. Instead, the serenely beautiful Desperate Wings or the ‘round the campfire feel of Chrysilia - vocalist Chryso bordering on bardlike - make better on their own. Still, the album is meant to be taken whole, and that’s how it does best. Though the mentioned ones are some of the less metallic tracks on here, there is no shortage of those, either.

Talented guitarist Teo Ross gets more work on his hands in tracks like By the Gates of Ypsus and King of a Stellar War. Still heavy with folk elements however, the music never really seems to let the guitars reach their full potential. The riff work seems underdeveloped and the solos - when they appear - are bland. Perhaps in a natural sense, with the overall focus on John Matzakos’s keys, Odysseas’s violin and of course the operatic vocals of Chryso. Overall however, the blend of metal and classic elements with the folkier tunes is interesting and done well, evidently with a lot of passion and a sense of colorful storytelling. The entire album clocks in at just under 50 minutes (not counting bonus the bonus “operatic” version of Desperate Wings), but if you let it sweep you away it feels longer - in a good sense. Clearly, the album has its small flaws, little things to work on and bits and pieces that aren’t quite up to par with the best parts, but in all Chrysilia delivers a sweet debut; clever, mythological and heavily serene.

 

Standout tracks: By the Gates of Ypsus, Arcadia

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Chrysilia - The Menalon Trail