Thursday, July 11, 2013

Daedric Tales - Hircine's Call (EP) (2013)

When The Elder Scrolls franchise began in 1994, it would have been impossible to predict what this series would accomplish. Some twenty years and 18 sequels and expansions later, it stands as one of the most recognizable and profitable game properties in the world. And much in the way that Dungeons & Dragons inspired many of the power metal acts of the last few decades, Oblivion has done the same for the next wave of bands. It is here that Daedric Tales, a bursting at the seams seven piece from Austria, found the inspiration for their debut EP. Looking to make music that was both rich, and appropriately epic given the subject matter, they take on the stance as characters, retelling stories of conquest and battle. As bizarre as that may sound to an outsider, it works in the most profound of ways. And as the band invites you into their world, there is no prerequisite for enjoyment. Whether you have a copy of Skyrim in your collection or not, "Hircine's Call" is an adventure you should take.

There is no secret here; the intro track is exactly that, an introduction to both the album and the world the band holds so dear. It has a modern video game vibe, which is an interesting wrinkle. That sound becomes the underlying theme of the album, even when the most raucous beats come blasting through. On "At The Gates," you find a band holding nothing back, all seven members coming down on you from different directions. The leads are intricate and driving, quickly become a featured item. But it is the duel vocals that cement and weaken the track at the same time. Vocalist Alexandra shows off her range time and time again, allowing the beauty of her voice to come through cleanly. the male vocal that chimes in, though, is flat and monotone, lacking any real depth. As big a shame as it is, losing that contrast, tracks like "The Red Mountain" almost make you forget this shortcoming. The orchestrations alone work wonders, especially in the quieter moments, like those leading up to the breakdown. It speaks to the amount of preparation that has gone into the instrumental, finally letting the parts merge together in a galloping harmony.

But unheard to this point is the folk influence, something that rears its head on "The Dragonborn." While it comes in abruptly, it does add an aura of triumph to the mix, a layer of hod nodding melody that is easy to appreciate. With the track clocking in at almost seven minutes, it might be a necessity to keep the wheel rolling. Alexandra is at her operatic best here, soaring into the higher registers without ever showing a sign of struggle. This may also be the first time you can feel yourself immersed in the music, rather than sitting outside of it. Darting guitar riffs and a choir of vocals put the icing on this cake, a satisfying foray into folk power metal. But the song itself does more than just capably fill a slot on the EP; it moves from strength to strength. It sets the entire offering on fire, leaving the overflowing mix of "Rain" to both burn brighter, and hope to keep the blaze under control. This stands as the best track on the album, hidden in the fifth and final slot. Everything has come together in the most impressive way, now allowing each piece to prop up and elevate the others, a symbiotic relationship that is as hard to achieve as it sounds. Shredding guitars, otherworldly keyboard arrangements, and a battery of drums leave you wondering how your life would be complete without this disc.

It's in our nature to be skeptical. Things that are unfamiliar or different sometimes make us likely to pass. Having never touched any of The Elder Scrolls titles, it took an extra few seconds to allow myself to become one with the music. But taken out of context, it is just as crisp and refreshing as it would be to someone with a working knowledge of the game from which it was conceived. That alone would be worthy of praise and admiration; it isn't often that an album can sweep you up without really understanding what it is the songs are about. Daedric Tales have met that challenge head on, and somehow find a common ground between the metal world and a fantasy one. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? We've been down this road before thanks to bands like Blind Guardian, weaving together the tapestries of reality and fantasy. And perhaps this will start the next big boom; though that wouldn't really matter. Together or separate, metal and fantasy games will exist in this world. "Hircine's Call" is just a friendly reminder that they can coexist.


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