Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Waylander - Kindred Spirits (2012)

Some twenty years after their formation, Celtic metal six piece Waylander have only a handful of releases to their credit. Having suffered internal strife numerous times over their lifespan, and seeing ten members come and go, the Northern Irish band have repeatedly taken years between album, resulting in a catalog that has only three full length efforts in it. But now, some four years after their Listenable Records debut in 2008, vocalist ArdChieftain O'Hagan and his blackened folk bandmates are ready to give it another go. With a host of metal tenets and traditional Celtic folk inspirations, "Kindred Spirits" is a mixed bag that may, or may not, hit home. But one thing is for sure; this band won't go quietly.

The flutes and pipes that open "Echoes Of The Sidhe" are a misdirection, one quickly squashed by a heavy handed verse section. Between the massive thumping of kick drums and the coarse vocals, you are assaulted by distortion and unrestrained aggression. It isn't until the track progresses that the guitar work becomes more intricate, laying down a melody, of sorts, behind a wall of chugging. it's the bridge section where the band shines brightest, combined the folk instrumentals with the thrash ones, forming a hybrid sound that mixes surprisingly well. Using the same basic formula, "Lamh Dearg" starts with softly strummed acoustics before descending into madness. It is the vocals here that seem out of place at times, with very little variation to how they are delivered. With a persistent drum pattern and bass line, the rhythm section does a bulk of the work, leaving the guitars to share the melody with the winds instruments. Their increased role does wonders for the overall sound, even lifting the blackened screams into the catchy range. Without a doubt the most complete piece, "Twin Fires Of Beltine" sees the band at their level best. They find the perfect balance between folk and thrash, maintaining a solid melody while also asserting more aggressive riffs. The stomp the starts each verse is excellent, as is the shared vocal duties of harsh and clean. A well executed bridge section, cutting from heavy to clean, highlights a strong effort.

What begins as an acoustic piece evolves and changes over the course of a minute, eventually landing itself squarely in the blackened death realm. "Of Fear And Fury" reveals itself to be one of the more straightforward tracks on the album, sacrificing twists and turns for crushing riffs and an ocean of double kick pedals. The light touches added in the outro are nice, but seem too few and far between. To the contrary, is the essence of folk metal. Stepping back from the rattling distortion, acoustic guitars and flutes set the stage for a rich piece of storytelling on "Grave Of Giants." It is in these chunks that the band can not only express themselves through their heritage, but can also showcase their versatility. In creates a contrast as you go into, and eventually out of, the beautiful side and back into the dark of "A Path Well Trodden." To describe the drumming as overbearing would be doing it a disservice, because it is as impressive as anything on the album. But it is ever present, pounding and pummeling you from every direction, often dominating the mix. This track, in particular, has an almost flawed bounty of cymbals. The constant rattling of metal loses its impact by the time you reach the bridge, and proceeds to crowd things and steal some of the thunder away from the guitars and vocal.

Taking a large stride into the world of melodic death, "Quest For Immortality" shares more in common with the likes of Insomnium than it does with other folk bands. The guitars riffs remain heavy, only taking short melodic bursts to separate verse from chorus and bridge. And while the vocals remain one dimensional, they do enough to carry the track from start to finish. The guitars, however, erupt in a flurry of wailing riffs and wild solos. When joined by a chanting choir, the track takes an unexpected, and wholly appreciated turn to the finish. What seems formulaic on "Erdath" may also be positive. A soft beginning explodes into a full on bloodbath. But this isn't a one trick pony this time around. The bridge section sees a dramatic change of pace, slowing down to a doom-like crawl, one that does just enough to shake things up. When you emerge from this slumber, the band is rejuvenated, plowing ahead in a sea of distortion and whistles. But it is the final, and title, track that seems to best define the band and their style. Through the six and half minutes of "Kindred Spirits," you are taken on a march of sorts. The vocals finally gain their power, telling us that we are all together as one. All the while, flutes and whistles accompany the aggressive stomp. rather than isolate and separate the pieces, they all come together in a broken harmony, eventually fading out in an acoustic strum.

With nine songs, most of which go six minutes or more, "Kindred Spirits" is ambitious, if not overreaching. Despite seeing their best and brightest moments come when they allow traditional and modern to meet, they far too often rely on one or the other the carry the load. This isn't to say the album falls flat; What it lacks in variety, it makes up for in strength of will. Waylander have seen their fair share of turmoil over the years, and many lesser bands would have waved the white flag long ago. But with these six members proudly displaying their colors, it is hard not to let yourself go and be overtaken by the music, however harsh it may be. And while the folk metal world will clearly not be shaken to the core by this record, Waylander have done their flag, their country, and their heritage proud.


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