Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Svartsot - Maledictus Eris (2011)

Denmark may not be the home to all things brutal, but Svartsot may change that soon enough. With a name that translates to "black sickness," their signature brand of Danish folk is sure to turn a few heads. They attack your ears with all of jauntiness of their contemporaries, but with a decidedly heavier vocal edge. And after two successful full length efforts, it is time for the next step. They release "Maledictus Eris" to a growing fanbase, in hopes of making the leap from folk band to folk heroes.

A baby cries. A family speaks. The short intro track, "Staden" leads you to "Gud Giv Det Varer Ved!" There is no hiding the influences here, with flutes and whistles carrying the bulk of the early load. The guitars, while distorted, have a certain melodic attribute that gives a razor sharp appeal to the vicious vocals. The vocal hook in the chorus may induce a head nod or three. The drumming is consistent, with the constant pounding of kicks and snares filling every available gap. A raspy cough ends the track, and launches you straight into "Dodedansen." This is a gritty affair, with the vocals bordering on blackened folk. But the use of whistles and, oddly, mandolin keeps the track lighter. The mixture of lighthearted native instruments and and twirling guitar work is well conceived and well delivered. Even amidst near death vocals, a rich guitar solo reignites the folk flame.

Those growls continue through "Farsoten Kom," but find themselves paired with chants that will convince you to raise your glass high. A wicked mandolin melody, however odd it may sound to say that, is the highlight of sounds like a bar room classic. The sporadic use of double kicks, normally done to death, reinforces the power in each thud. A sound that many would perceive as bagpipes infiltrates "Holdt Ned Af En Tjorn," creating a dancing sensation in your legs. The guitars chug away, with deep, forceful growls commanding each verse. The breakdown portion must be heard, with a bass line becoming tangled in the sea of pipes and whistles. A black metal vocal spurt pushes things back to heavy, before a light outro.

A distorted guitar echos as "Den Forgaengelige Tro" begins. This track leans back and forth between heavy and sublime. One second the whistles take over, light and airy. mere moments later, the growls crashing of cymbals seize control. The give and take creates a balance that separates a good folk band from a mediocre melodic death band. The drums in the early stages of "Om Jeg Lever Kveg" provide some interesting fills and rolls, but the whistles play the starring role. The rousing march is heightened by the impeccable timing of each flute portion. A more minimalist appraoch is taken on "Kunsten at Do," which fills a storytelling role. The verses are vocal dominated, with little going on musically. As you crash into each bridge and chorus, the band assert themselves, in a flurry of strings and pipes. The breakdown becomes more aggressive, leading to a fierce finish, drums crashing in every direction.

Nowhere on the album is the folk presence felt more than on "Den Nidske Gud." The vocals, while strong and dirty, take a backseat to the instrumental carnage. There is a great mix of folk elements and metal roots, coming together in a dynamic harmony. While the acoustic "ballad" of "Spigrene" is a complete departure from the rest of the disc. The clean, Danish vocals are inspiring. It is difficult to put into words the inherent beauty of a song crafted this way. The grand finale, "Og Landet Ligger Sa Ode Hen," is a victory in so many ways. The merging of the hard and the heavy with the rich and radiant is perfected. They now blend, seamlessly, in one final assault. The growls are the beast of it all, maintaining their strength in a what plays as a more lighthearted offering.

We have sung the praises of the folk genre numerous times. But not all folk is created equal. With so many different cultures, styles and instruments to absorb, it can be difficult to provide something that is both original and true to your roots. It is a mountain that takes time to climb. Svartsot are not yet at the pinnacle with "Maledictus Eris," but they are well on their way. When they reach the top, the flag of Denmark can join the legion of countries that have a seat on the folk metal throne.


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