Friday, June 21, 2013

Suidakra - Eternal Defiance (2013)

Farbeit from me to say that Suidakra are the only German Celtic folk metal band, but they are certainly one of the best. Having built a career on crushing war tunes with native Celtic undertones, this four piece from Düsseldorf have turned their fair share of heads over the course of fifteen years. But it hasn't been a flat ride; the band have grown with each album, starting a constant uphill climb to top themselves with each subsequent release. For the last two years, we thought "Book Of Dowth" was going to be the "be all and end all" of the Suidakra albums, redefining them in profound ways. But that was all the way back in 2011, and this isn't the same band, spiritually or emotionally. They've changed once again, in the enxt step of their life cycle, infusing more strings, more classical arrangements into their sound than ever before. With Arkadius remaining at the helm, they have continued to advance in leaps and bounds. There is no stopping now. There is simply moving forward; and "Eternal Defiance" represents a monumental achievement in the evolution of sound.

You can find everything good and righteous about Suidakra in the opening track, "Storming The Walls." The clap of thunder sets into motion three plus minutes of horns, strings, and the sounds of battle, all surrounded by crunching, distorted guitars. The orchestral arrangements, written by the hands of band mainman Arkadius, redefine the term "epic," as it pertains to folk metal. But as the last thundering crash of cymbals cuts through, you are thrown head first into the meat of the album at large. With "Inner Sanctum," the band launches into their signature devastation, stomping and thrashing their way through verse and chorus. Drummer Lars pounds away at his kit, laying down a thick layer of double kicks and rolling toms. His percussion work becomes the foundation for everything that follows, from the screaming guitars to the literal screaming of the vocal lines. Despite very straightforward riffing, there are a lot of subtleties hidden in the layers beneath, both melodic and atmospheric. Those touches, however small they may seem, provide the album with stability, as is evident in "Beneath The Red Eagle." Here, the secondary instrumentation of keys, orchestral instruments, and synthesizers, lifts the standard trio even further. Throw in a great mix of clean male and female vocals, and you ahve a track that is as well rounded as anything in their back catalog. The drumming alone pushes the mastering job to the brink of collapse.

And if you can find a better suited name than "March Of Conquest," you might have found a better career choice. The crushing stomp of the track brings you into the scenery, allowing you to step along with the band in all of their distorted fury. But restraint is the key here; rather than delivering a death blow a mere four tracks in, they hold back and unleash another round of beautifully sung harmonies. By no means is this track a dainty lullaby, though, as Arkadius and fellow guitarist Jussi lay down a heavy wall of power riffs. With the addition of bagpipes to the opening of "Pair Dadeni," the bands Celtic undertones come to the fore. Unlike their contemporaries, this is not an invitation to dance; on the contrary, it helps to bolster the mix with a very unique combination of sounds, often entwined with the guitar lead. They remain in your face at all times, surgically precise and astonishingly heavy handed. But following the beatdown, it makes sense to sooth the wounds, as "The Mindsong" does beautifully. The acoustic guitars, delicately delivered piano keys, and female vocals are all you need for this brief respite. It also takes time to deliver some of the storytelling the band has been known for on album's past. There is contrast to be had here as well, as the light gives way to "Rage For Revenge," a track with another fitting title. The guitar speeds are pushed to the limit, coming down fast and furious. Both pacing and the structure here lend themselves well to being played in a live setting, surely inviting raised fists. This is also where you'll find the best guitar work on the album, both lead and rhythm.

The building volume in the opening to "Dragon's Head" may fool you into thinking this track is something other than the reality, but this is a blackened scream fest at its core, blooming right before your eyes. The pulse of the kick drums coming through your speakers is strong, echoed by the bass lines that Tim has so precisely crafted in the middle of it all. But this isn't a one trick pony, bending and changing before your eyes and ears from verse to bridge to chorus and back again. The pipes play a large role in making this one work, adding another layer of glue to hold it all together. It reminds us that all is not always what it seems, as there are many different aspects to take in. Never is this more apparent than on a song like "Defiant Dreams," which boasts one of the more overflowing instrumentals on the album. Not only have the drums, guitars, and bass gone to breakneck speeds, but the light synthesizer injections wind and whirl around the mix like the proverbial rope. The density of the vocals is incredible, carrying the weight of raw emotion, but in a polished way. The band go outside the box one last time for the album closer, the sonically pleasing "Damnatio Memoriae." There is a classical element to the guitars here, plucked and strummed together in a majestic fashion, that sets the table perfectly for a melodic vocal performance. More importantly, it creates the foundation for the album to close the way it opens, with a flurry of horns and orchestral movements.

Is it really possible to say a band has outdone themselves with the release of every album? Suidakra, more than 15 years into their reign as Celtic folk metal kings, only get stronger and stronger. perhaps it is their ability to evolve and change with the times; or maybe it is the fact that their creativity has not diminished, but grown, over the last two decades of work. Whatever the reason, all bands should hope to have the kind of prolific career we've seen grown before our eyes. All that said, "Eternal Defiance" is, indeed, another masterpiece in their catalog, another trophy on the mantle, and another crowning achievement in metal mastery. There are no weak spots, no stumbles, and not even a slip to be found, minus a mastering job that might leave some listeners with a throbbing headache when all is said and done. Fifteen years might have gotten Suidakra to this point, but "Eternal Defiance" will live on as their best effort to date... at least until the next one.

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