Friday, July 8, 2011

Tengwar - The Halfling Forth Shall Stand... (2011)

The collected works of J.R.R. Tolkien have influenced many bands over the years, all to varying degrees. The latest group to catch the Lord of the Rings bug is Tengwar, a seven piece folk outfit from Buenos Aires, Argentina. With their new concept album, The Halfling Forth Shall Stand...," they combine traditional South American sounds with Celtic and Medieval influences in a tribute to the trials and tribulations of Middle-Earth. Pack your bag, Frodo. It's time for an epic adventure.

After the chanting introductory track, "Return Of The Shadow," Tengwar dive into the fray. Guitar shredding and dizzying drums are the foundation for flutes and pipes in "A Long Expected Fading." The tempo is intimidating at first, but as the vocals kick in, things calm down slightly. While the music carries you directly to the Shire, the vocals are a bit off-putting, delivered in a manner that is seemingly off key, and too tremulous. A chanting styled chorus redeems them, drawing attention to the lyrical content. Thumping drums and ethnic instruments consume "The Halflings Rise," another interlude, leading directly into "War Begins." This track is a realization of the vision, trudging ahead in that glorious folk way, making you choose between dancing and banging your head. The clean vocals are a struggle at times, but the harsher, screeches are spot on. The standard instruments are near flawless, delivered precisely.

The band fire through tale after tale, from the triumphant tone of "Marching South" to the emotionally charged "Snow And Defeat." Drumming is strong, almost to a point where it becomes part of the background. The tribal tinged "The Password" serves as an intro to "Dwarf Sings In The Dark," which is an epic display of instrumental prowess. The gang vocals throughout are the perfect addition to the flurry of instruments, as varied and diverse as the band itself. The darker "Fire And Shadow Defied" is immediately followed by a song that contains more acoustic styled passages than distortion, with flutes, pipes and strings coming together in a brilliant harmony. "The Pilgrim's Gone" even contains a thrashing solo that would make many power metal bands green with envy.

The more march oriented "In The Land Of The Golden" is a change of pace from the established thrash. There are still blazing guitars cutting in and out, but the drums alternate between the high tempo onslaught and a slower, more assertive thump. The raspy vocals return, briefly, in a welcomed change. An acoustic interlude, titled "Farewell," plays us off to the final piece of the album, running directly into "The Swan." A beautiful female voice gets the spotlight, lead by a stunning musical piece. The fields of Middle-Earth can be seen, waving in the winds. The visuals are stunning, as each layered piece adds new depth to the sound.

A heavy, tribal beat and flowing bassline begins "Uruks," before allowing a cloudy guitar riff to take control. the wind instruments are delicate played, yet so commanding in their presence. This may be the most complete track on the album, with the vocals taking a back seat to the music at hand. The gang vocals inspire the end of the journey on "The Bearer's Choice." Each piece of the puzzle comes together, from the steadfast guitar work, to the barrage of pipes to the rock solid drumming. As quickly as it builds, it begins to fade away, coming to complete silence as the disc ends.

Much like the battles of Middle-Earth, there are victories and defeats on this album. Musically, it is refreshing and vibrant, with each member filling a void in the sound. This isn't just standard folk with Tolkien lyrics. They have truly captured the sound of the Shire. However, the clean, almost operatic, vocals do struggle to rise to the challenge. They have certainly done the story justice, and there is cause for celebration. But if this epic is to become a trilogy in the same quality of Tolkien's, there is some polishing to be done.


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