Friday, July 20, 2012

Vesperia - The Swordsman (EP) (2012)

We do our best to seek out new and exciting bands to review. We do this, of course, not only for ourselves, but for you. But every now and then, a band or album lands squarely on our laps, sent to us by a band, fan, or label. Such is the case for Vesperia, a Canadian band that classifies their style simply as "Symphonic Celtic Death Metal." Yes, this Ontario based four piece is pushing the boundaries of metal once again, evolving from the brainchild of bassist and vocalist Morgan Rider. Released as a follow-up to their 2011 debut album, "Voyage From Vinland," this new four track EP will only serve to solidify what we already know. And "The Swordsman" is exactly as advertised.

Riding a cold wind, and one slide down the neck of the bass, the title track comes into frame. The rolling double kick drums are fast and furious, driving you deeper into the mix. In the guitars, you get speed and precision, but not mindless heaviness. Each segment runs perfectly into the next, with smaller melodies coming together to form one big one. Rider's bass work is electrifying, joining with drummer Cory Hofing in a dynamic rhythm section. The vocals are a highlight, switching from pure death growls to airy chant and clean singing. Even the light keyboard and piano effects do wonders for the mix. Following the same basic formula, "Huntress" finds itself built on a foundation of neverending drum fills and guitars, but with a twist. There is a folk tone to the way the music is played, something akin to Ensiferum, but with a decidedly death edge. The snare drum has a metallic sound, one that might make even Lars Ulrich cringe, a slight imperfection to a booming kit. It does, unfortunately highlight small problems in the recording process, but ones that are easy to overlook when you pay attention to the fluttering folk instrumentals at play.

A crackling fire welcomes you to "To End Times We Ride," joined soon by dueling guitars. Guitarists Tim Ferriman and Casey Elliott form the lead here, joined by rich strings. As a Viking styled chant emerges, you may find yourself pulled into the middle of the music. The faster paced opening gives way to a slower, more pounding segment, where Rider delivers his growls expertly. Everything from here seems to take an upbeat approach, almost victorious in scope. The Celtic influences are apparent, even though they are only used sporadically here. You can pick them out in the guitars, as well as the smaller use of ethnic instrumentation. A more delicate intro opens "A Silence Prolonging (In Longing)," with beautiful clean guitars forming a melody. There is a softer side, to both the band and the music, with Rider laying down a set of clean vocals atop of this newly found sensitivity. As the gang style vocals enter, there is the aura of chanting to behold, something that fits so well with the backing music. And an album that began with such a thunder ends with a whisper.

The folk metal genre is flooded with bands doing the exact same thing, at the exact same time. This, unfortunately, takes one of the most inspired genres, and makes it stale and unappealing. But Vesperia, with all their eccentric instrumentation and added influences, have the potential to reinvigorate things in a slightly new form. The balance of sound is what makes this EP so successful, putting out a pie that is divided equally among death, folk, symphonic and traditional heavy metal. The end product, despite the somewhat clouded production, should be enough to reignite a flame in some folk fans of yesterday. Canada damn near has it all, with free health care and "The Swordsman" under their belt.


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