Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: Suidakra - Book of Dowth (2011)

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Book of Dowth

Germany's Suidakra is arguably one of the most prolific bands of the folk metal genre, cranking out ten albums in a span of seventeen years, yet they've managed to remain mostly under the radar. Their combination of blackened metal with traditional Celtic melodies and instruments is hardly innovative these days, but with Book of Dowth Suidakra delivers an album that is consistently well-written, marvelously executed, and remarkable for its staying power. A concept album, Book of Dowth tells the dark story of the mythological Irish race known as the Fomorians as depicted by an ancient tome (fictionally) discovered at the Neolithic passage tomb of Dowth (or Dubhadh), which lies near Newgrange in Ireland's Boyne Valley. An interesting premise, for sure, and a key ingredient in the album's overall impact.

Book of Dowth gets rolling with the instrumental "Over Nine Waves". The fantastic blend of epic uillean pipes and menacing riffs makes this the best, and most appropriate, intro that I've heard in ages. The Irish instruments are used sparingly in Suidakra's sound, though when present they are not overwhelming nor do they overshadow the metallic elements. The band instead relies more on melody to generate a sense of mysticism, with atmospheric keyboard accents ranging just beneath the surface of the rousing riffs and urgent beats. Book of Dowth is, therefore, not so much a folk metal album as it as an aggressive power metal album with folkish melodies. Indeed, the strong riffs of "Dowth 2059" and the furious double-kick of "The Dark Mound" are more than enough to enrapture fans of straightforward power metal outfits like Gamma Ray and Grave Digger.

While the riffs put forth by frontman Arkadius Antonik (notice that Suidakra is Arkadius spelled backwards) are stirring, anthemic, and infectious, his vocal versatility is a key ingredient in Suidakra's successful recipe. Predominantly harsh vocals, comprised mainly of howling snarls, are a staple of the Suidakra sound. On Book of Dowth, as on previous albums, Arkadius ventures into cleaner pastures to give the album variety and, at times, poignancy. "Mag Mell" is an acoustic folk ballad that has a bit of a Falconer sound to it, mostly due to Arkadius' lilting baritone, that serves as a fine break from the aggressiveness heard on most of the preceding tracks - though plenty of aggression, most notably on "Fury Fomoraigh", remains ahead. Clean refrains and gang choruses also dot several other tracks, including the martial "Stones Of Seven Suns" and the vigorous "Battle-Cairns", but by and large Arkadius' well-enunciated harsh style dominates the album.

"Biróg’s Oath", a strong track that morphs from a wistful ballad into a rousing Celtic rampage, re-introduces Suidakra fans to the voice of Tina Stabel. Having briefly appeared on the band's 2009 offering Crógacht, Stabel returns to give a strong lead performance on this track - cementing it as one of the standouts on Book of Dowth - as well as contributing an engaging duet with Arkadius on "Mag Mell". Her crooning vocal style, while polished, perfectly suits Suidakra's folkish atmosphere. Although I am a fan of female metal vocals, I think using Stabel only sparingly to provide just a taste of variation was an excellent idea and Book of Dowth is an even stronger album because of it.

Folk metal fans have had a mixed bag of releases to choose from so far this year, but Book of Dowth is one album that rises to the top of the heap and should, without question, be examined by anyone with an interest in the style.

Track Listing
1Over Nine Waves2:00
2Dowth 20594:41
4Biróg’s Oath4:21
5Mag Mell3:22
6The Dark Mound5:17
8Stone Of Seven Suns5:04
9Fury Fomoraigh5:54
10Otherworlds Collide1:44
Total Runtime40:39

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