Sunday, December 7, 2003

Review: Forefather - Engla Tocyme (2002)

Forefather [ Website | MySpace ]
Engla Tocyme

I find it admirable for the members of metal bands to take pride in their heritage and create original and memorable songs based on the history, folklore, and mythology of their cultures (Cruachan being an example of one of my favorites). Many times, however, such an endeavor results in a song or album that sounds cheesy, at best. On the other hand, there are those few times where everything gels and the lyrics fit the music like a glove, with the compositions having an epic feel suited perfectly for the telling of an ancient tale. Forefather is one of those rare bands that has managed to create an imposing work of heroic metal worthy of the history they represent. Blending black, classic, folk, and symphonic elements into Engla Tocyme (meaning The Coming of the English), the band spins 7 yarns of the early Anglo-Saxon period of Britain.

Actually a duo, Forefather was formed by brothers Wulfstan and Athelstan in 1997 and over the next 3 years released two albums of epic blackish metal on their own label. Still recorded in their home studio, Engla Tocyme sees a departure from the majority of the black metal elements though the influences are still present (blast beats are at some point in nearly every song, while "Iron Hand" also sees a return to Wulfstan's extreme vocal style). Lead-off and title track "Engla Tocyme" wastes not a second in establishing the mood of the album, opening with the sound of the sea lapping at the shore (presumably that of Britain) and Wulfstan chanting melodically. The chanting continues as the band launches an assault of guitar sound that completely envelops the listener and draws them in to Forefather's story. Wulfstan's voice is intense and powerful as he sings of ancient times with heartfelt conviction. For this reason, I'd like to see the band stay entirely away from the blackish vocal stylings and embrace Wulfstan's clean style, which does much more to convey the atmosphere of the songs. The song closes out with blast beats and a searing lead from Athelstan. "Into The Forever" has an even more imposing wall of guitar sound than the preceding track, but right away the use of a drum machine is clearly evident. While Forefather does use a machine throughout the album, they generally are able to blend it well enough so as not to be obvious. Breaking up the furious guitar torrent, the band tosses in a grinding dual-guitar riff before the blast beats once again pummel the listener. As mentioned earlier, "Iron Hand" is the closest to a "fully" black metal song on the album. From the very blackish opening riff, to the sinister keyboard passages, to Wulfstan's raspy vocals (deeper than most, however), the song exudes a menacing feel that is quite appropriate for the bloody subject of the lyrics. To me the most memorable track on Engla Tocyme is "Fifeldor", with its catchy chorus and medieval melodies that all stick with you long after the disc is out of the player. The dual riffs grab you and force you to move with the music, while Wulfstan sings in a bardic style that places you smack in the middle ages. An excellent song from start to finish, I've caught myself shouting "Fifeldor!!" hours after last listening to the album. The first of two instrumental tracks on the album is "The Swan's Road", a exquisitely lush and atmospheric composition driven mainly by Wulfstan's keyboards. Very mellow, the song creates a medieval mood with the synthesized sounds of various Renaissance and medieval instruments. While still powerful in an epic sense, the song does have a relaxing quality to it that reminds me of something Enya would have come up with (don't knock her, she kicks ass). "Forever In Chains" brings the album fully back into the metallic world with full guitars and a woeful riff. Wulfstan sings at a higher range than normal here, even managing to resemble Paul Stanley at times, though the chorus is sung in a deeper tone. While the keyboards were predominant in the previous track, here they appear only for brief, but enhancing, atmospheric passages. Athelstan's leads are simple but at the same time are very expressive, wrapping you in the moment. The final track on the album, "The Fate Of Kings", is the second instrumental and is wholly guitar-driven, whereas "The Swan's Road" was focused primarily on keys (though the keys still provide occasional background atmosphere). The main riff is crunchy and driving, with Athelstan's emotive leads resembling much from the early days of bands such as Metallica and Megadeth. Mostly mid-paced, the song nonetheless carries the listener away and leaves them wanting more.

Engla Tocyme truly is a remarkable album for its originality and quality of musicianship. While many bands try to express themselves in a grand, epic style, Forefather seems to have what it takes to easily create metal of the sort that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Having recently signed to Karmageddon Records, I for one am very excited to see what's in store for their 4th album. I strongly encourage fans of lush, epic metal with a medieval feel to check out this band.

Track Listing
1Engla Tocyme
2Into The Forever
3Iron Hand
5The Swan's Road
6The Fate Of Kings

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