Excelsis - The standing stone 3/5
2. Soldiers of heaven
3. The march
4. For death and glory
5. Lost chamber
6. The silent song
7. The siege
8. Armour of God
9. Standing stone
11. The classic chamber
For a band that have been running as long as Excelsis, it is curious that the most anyone can usually tell you about them is that they had a song included on the end of Iron Savior’s ‘Unification’ CD after winning some sort of magazine competition. Maybe the fact that the Swiss outfit have continued on since with barely a flicker of interest from the world at large is explanation enough as to why that sort of promotion never caught on.
Being as ignorant to their movements as the next man in the street, I was surprised to see just how consistently they have been turning out CDs, and even though ‘The standing stone’ was their first full-length in 4 years, that it is their 5th overall without any sort of serious label backing is still testament to strong perseverance if nothing else.
While the epic power/folk metal style Excelsis play is certainly far more en vogue than when they started out in 1996, they have still managed to maintain an identity of their own and don’t conform to the more typical sprightly variant of the style that is doing the rounds these days.
The songs are punctuated by flutes and pipes played by a few of the band members as well as the keyboards, which are used strictly for setting atmosphere and the odd symphonic arrangement rather than as a lead instrument, but the music remains grounded in down-tempo epic metal rather than a fully-formed folk/power combination. Münggu Beyeler’s vocals are very much reminiscent of Chris Boltendahl, gruff and rough-edged yet still oddly melodic, and are quite suitable for the gritty tone that underpins their style at all times.
While Excelsis are quite successful with ‘The standing stone’ in crafting a sweeping atmosphere, the final product is not wholly satisfactory, with too much repetition in song structure to keep any surprises in store for the listener. With nearly every song running 7 minutes or longer, and most broken up by some sort of acoustic interlude, the band have undermined their own good work by signposting exactly where the songs are going to go well in advance.
The lack of urgency in the songs also becomes glaringly apparent early on, and very few of them ever pay off by delivering a sudden shift in tempo. This build-up with lack of conclusion is the equivalent of watching a historical epic film with the battle scenes cut out, and the CD suffers terribly for it, in places becoming a tiresome slog rather than the heroic journey that the band are aiming for.
The frustration levels only increase when the quality of some of the individual songs is taken into account. “Armour of God”, through some excellent guitar playing, actually manages to gradually build some bruised intensity and makes better use of its extended running time than most of the other songs. On the other hand, “Lost chamber” is the proud owner of some typically gentle folk melodies that are used to create a wind-swept romantic ode. The title track is one of the few that actually delivers on its promise, and its shifts in pace and style emphasize what could have been they had been used more liberally throughout the CD.
‘The standing stone’ is a tough one to describe fully, for while the individual songs do nothing wrong in their own right, the CD as a whole cannot come with a strong recommendation. A little bit more imagination when it comes to building their admittedly compelling melodies into full songs is required from Excelsis if they ever intend to be serious competitors. The CD flirts with excellence, but in the end the biggest thing that can be taken away is a sense of anticlimax.
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