Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Svartsot - Maledictus Eris (2011)

Svartsot [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Maledictus Eris

Denmark's Svartsot, whose name translates to "black sickness", is an extreme folk metal outfit bearing a number of similarities to bands like Eluveitie and Ensiferum. Folk instruments and traditional Nordic melodies are combined with gristled riffs and harsh vocals for a sound that is both brutal and catchy...and quite familiar in this day and age. The folk metal subgenre is practically awash with bands mixing blast beats with bagpipes, but as with any niche style the fans are always hungry for more quality material and so the bands continue to emerge. Latecomers to the scene, Svartsot released their debut album in 2007 before practically disintegrating over musical and personal differences. Now, four years later, the line-up behind guitarist and primary songwriter Cristoffer J.S. Frederiksen has solidified and the band's third album Maledictus Eris has hit the cobblestone streets.

A concept album exploring the death and despair caused by The Black Death in the middle of the 14th century (appropriate given the meaning of the band's moniker), Maledictus Eris covers all the bases of the folk metal style while sporting quality production values and incredible packaging. Although sung entirely in Svartsot's native tongue, the ideas behind the lyrical content are intriguing and props definitely go out to the guys for embracing their heritage and history. Even had the lyrics been delivered in a language that I could understand, frontman Thor Bager (awesome metal name, btw) gurgles, growls, and shrieks his way through the verses in such a way as to render the words wholly indecipherable. Though I prefer clean vocals to go along with my folk metal, I get where the band is coming from and find that Svartsot's aggressiveness would be muted considerably had Bager sung instead of howled. In fact, he does exhibit some clean vocals on the ballad "Spigrene" and the end result is his shakiest performance on Maledictus Eris. Better to stick with the growls, then.

The foundation of the folk metal genre is of course the use of traditional instruments like bagpipes, mandolin, and bodhrán to lend an ethnic or medieval sound to the folksy riffs and melodies. The combination of these instruments with the more "metallic" guitars, drums and keys is, for the most part, where bands succeed or fail. Frederiksen does a fine job of pairing his caustic riffs with Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen's finely played flute, whistle and pipes, nowhere more engaging than on "Holdt ned af en Tjørn".
The bagpipe melody atop the classic metal riffs helps cement this track as the most memorable track on Maledictus Eris, though in truth the band does a superior job on each and every song to strike the right balance between folk and metal. One drawback to the album is that the balancing act is sometimes too precise, causing a few of the songs to lack enough identity to stand out from the pack. "Dødedansen", as an example, tends to be one of these more or less generically brutal tracks. The mandolin accents mix well with the rather straightforward blast beats and hurried riffs, and while the track is enjoyable it's not overly fetching. Other tracks tread similar territory, but have a little something that sets them apart. The gang choruses of "Farsoten kom", for instance, and the pirate melodies and tribal drumming heard on "Den nidske Gud" are excellent means of keeping listener attention riveted in the moment.

Ultimately, Maledictus Eris is an above average folk metal album that suffers from a couple of lulls. The music is well played, the songs are for the most part interesting, and if you enjoy extreme vocals then Bager will rock your world. Fans of the genre will surely want to add this to their collection.

Track Listing
2Gud giv det varer ved!4:28
4Farsoten kom4:33
5Holdt ned af en Tjørn4:27
6Den forgængelige Tro4:48
7Om jeg lever kveg3:23
8Kunsten at dø5:04
9Den nidske Gud4:49
11Og Landet ligger så øde hen4:45
Total Runtime46:19

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