Monday, March 3, 2014

Vesperia - An Olden Tale (2013)

A mere twenty four hours ago, you may have read, right here on this very site, that some bands can thrive in poor production, while others can't. Druglord was the former, and Vesperia, while not entirely the latter, needed some improvements to make their mark. Their 2012 demo, titled "The Swordsman," was hugely successful in a number of ways, but lacked the clarity needed to make all of their wild instrumentation work. Fast forward  a year, to 2013, and that time sees a major change for Morgan Rider and his band of merry bearded men. As they put together their new full length, there is a noticeable edge to be heard, a rising clarity in sound and texture that could prove to be the next evolutionary step for Viking metal as we know it. The attached "epic" tag may seem like a buzz word gone mainstream, but one listen to what this Canadian quartet are churning out, and there can be no doubts as to how it applies. "An Olden Tale" is full of ferocity and triumph, sound and fury. And it all comes through like crystal.

Unlike many of the other Viking inspired bands of the modern day, Vesperia take their sound to exciting places. The symphonic and orchestral intro track, 1000 Years Ago, is assembled so precisely that it flows beautifully from your speakers. It sets into motion something special, and not coincidentally, sets a tone that is mirrored throughout the album. The early moments of With Omens Of Sorrow echo those rich sounds, before an unearthly explosion of drums cuts through the mix. But rather than abandon subtlety in favor of aggressiveness, they combine the two in a flawless way. Sure, guitarists Casey Elliott and Frankie Caracci are ripping and shredding through every barrier you may have put up, but it isn't one dimensional at any point. They play off of one another, all the while surrounded by a variety of synthesized instruments. When they back off to give their hands a rest, you are treated to a majestic trip through clean strumming and keys. The ability to jump back and forth between the two is uncanny, and done with great attention to detail. It's no real surprise that a strong vocal leads the way, with Morgan Rider blasting through the wall of distortion with grunts and growls, but also a low timbre.

His presence is never felt more strongly than on The Swordsman, where the balance between voice and instrumental is perfected. It may be the most dynamic four minute and change you'll hear this year, and definitely the quickest. There is little to no time to catch your breath, though, as Forsaken Shores sees the band at their heavy best, smashing their way through another three minute onslaught with not a note or drum beat out of place. We've often given credit to bands who play at this pace without sacrificing accuracy, and Vesperia certainly knows how to manage both. Their music is made that much more ensnaring by their commitment to tone and timing, both in instrumental and through Rider's vocals. And while Huntress may begin sounding like a Weird Al Humppa mashup, it quickly evolves into a melodic death masterpiece. It's hear that drummer Cory Hofing flexes his percussion muscle, shifting tempos and time signatures with blazing speed and perfect placement. Titles are really just words, of course, but if there has ever been a more righteous song title than To Times End We Ride, I haven't found it yet. When the music echoes that righteous power, it is a special moment to behold. And with a series of blasting kick drums and chanting vocals, Vesperia make that happen with ease. The guitar melodies here are unreal, mainly in their ability to be catchy and massively heavy at the same time.

With the pacing of the album so finely tuned, Bring Me Triumph, is almost surgical in its precision delivery. Rider's vocals are devastating here, running the entire range of metal vocal styles, all the while forming the glue that holds this battle together. Caracci and Elliott are at their best, as well, putting on a melodic clinic from start to finish. But it is the flutes that seal this deal, fluttering underneath a sea of guitar riffs and bass strings. But to be considered epic, some misguided souls argue your track times come into play. For those people, however foolish it may be, the title track dispels any doubts. An Olden Tale is seventeen of the most brilliantly conceived minutes the Viking metal genre has heard in some time. It is a microcosm of the entire album in one neat, albeit long, package. You get waves of pure thrash, followed closely by beautiful melodic passages and stunning instrumentals. But when it is all said and done, right around the ten minute mark, the outro is something else entirely. The wind blows, and with it it brings the sound of distant pipes. A heroic and fitting end to this journey.

In their previous demo, Vesperia gave us a lot to digest and a lot to think about. And we came back to it, time and time again, wishing only that the production screws could be tightened up to support the intense variety of sounds emanating from the speakers, into the air around us. But where "The Swordsman" faltered, "An Olden Tale" thrives, giving you everything you have come to expect from one of the most diverse and interesting Canadian metal bands with a focus on production and mixing that makes it sound all the more powerful. This is the vision of the band come to life, an epic and remarkable journey through depth and tone, one that never settles for less than the best possible outcome. It would be easy to overlook how important that is, but don't allow yourself to look past it. Rider, Caracci, Elliott and Hofing are playing at a level that deserves notice. And while tags like epic and Viking might not mean as much as they used to before the copycat explosion, they ring true here. This album will be a favorite now, and quite possibly a legend in years to come.


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