I’ve actually managed to pick up a few (note: understatement) CDs over the last few months and figured I’d mention a couple that you folks out there might enjoy. Not all of the stuff was released this year but they’re things I’ve purchased and enjoyed.
Metal is getting more mainstream every day but folk metal is still very niche and Switzerland’s Eluveitie is perhaps a niche within a niche. Where folk metal pioneers like Korpiklaani tend to sing in their native languages, Eulveitie takes a different route, replacing their native language for the now extinct Gaulish. The band also frequently employs the hurdy-gurdy. Their latest album Evocation I: the Arcan Dominion is surprisingly light on the metal and heavy on the folk. As one amazon.com reviewer puts it “What was meant to be folk turned out to be more Pop.” I don’t completely agree with that sentiment but there is a broader mainstream appeal here that fans of more popular folk-influenced music that is a far cry from Eluveitie’s much heavier albums . Still, it is a more intimate affair than Crimfall’s debut but somehow slightly grander than much of Korpiklaani’s work and as whole an extraordinarily compelling piece of music. Vocalist Anna Murphy is absolutely superb at conveying emotion that transcends the linguistic barrier while at the same time remaining diverse in both tone and timbre. Metal fans might balk at the albums lighter production values but they would be missing out on some impresssive tunes that reveal a band willing to take risks with their art.
Changing gears a bit I also picked up Red of Tooth and Claw by southern “gothic country” quartet Murder By Death. Murder By Death isn’t completely dissimilar to in its somewhat niche-like appeal and certainly has a similar folk vibe. The opening track I’m Coming Home has a very Johnny Cash feeling but tinged with a bit of a darker tone, leaving one to question if that coming home is entirely in everyone’s best interests. Like on many of the track the more traditional use of guitar and drums in accent and, in my opinion (warning: former cellist) is enhanced by the addition of a cello that lends the stripped down sound of the band an very full sound. Red of Tooth and Claw is an album obviously influenced by the western genre and includes a decent tribute to iconic western film composer Ennio Morricone but the album also mashes together that western-film sound with more traditional rock beats and the occaisonal groove-heavy riff. Murder By Death has a sound that is both unique, familiar, and a sound wholly their own.
Changing gears again we have the latest from Hammerfall, No Sacrifice, No Victory. Somehow I’ve been missing out on this power metal outfit and I have no explanation as to exactly why. While on the one hand there are no real surprises on this album at the same time there is a quality to the production and a catchiness to the song writing that is difficult to ignore. I find that many power metal bands get caught up in their own acts (or maybe it’s just power metal fans) but there is a sense of fun to this album that is highly infectious. The anthemic opening track By Any Means Necessary grabs you from the start with its anthemic stadium-rock like chorus and galloping beats and the album doesn’t let up for a minute from there on out. The title track is damned impressive and is one those big songs that will have you nodding your head and raising your fist in the air to chant the main chorus along with the rest of the band. While it doesn’t really do anything new what it does do, classic power metal with big anthemic choruses, it does well. This album is just plain fun and fans of power metal everywhere shouldn’t hesitate to pick it up.
Last but not least is doom metal outfit Blood Ceremony. I came across this band on a CD from UK magazine Metal Hammer and was immediately enthralled and must have listened to it every day for almost a week before I gave in a purchased their album. While I didn’t find the full album as engaging as that one single, Hop Toad, they are a highly original band. If you heard them you’d be surprised to learn that they a new band, with a new CD rather than something recorded back in the 79s. With its dancing flutes, prominent Hammond organ, and supernaturally themed lyrics Blood Ceremony comes off like the product of a union between Jethro Tull and Black Sabbath. The flute and hammond, combined with female vocals and some groove-heavy riffs gives the band a surprsing and occaisonally off-putting balance of light and dark that, while not always a perfect combination, lends the band their own unique feel and manages to keep things very interesting. While I’m not sure I’d recommend a purchase outright fans of retro-influenced music, especially those who enjoyed the J. Mascis side-project Witch, should definitely give this old school band a try.
Ok, one last honorable mention. Though they don’t have an album yet (it’s due in July) you should definatley checkout the track High Speed GTO by White Wizzard. Pure fun, old school metal.