Folkearth - Viking's anthem 3.5/5
1. Beasts from the blizzards
3. There is no death
4. The eternal city
5. Viking's anthem
6. To Avalon
7. A new day is rising
8. Warrior code
9. The conquering nightmare
10. Set sails to conquer
11. Legacy of steel
Things had gotten so bad for the once-great Folkearth that I at first completely skipped over 2009’s ‘Rulers of the sea’. I simply couldn’t face the prospect of listening to another CD from their endless production line of amateurish, dreadfully recorded works.
You could hardly blame me for writing them off though; after the majestic ‘By the sword of my father’ and the uneven but still satisfying ‘Drakkars in the mist’ the multinational conclave’s stock plummeted like you wouldn’t believe in 2008 with no less than 3 CDs that were insipid at best and cringeworthy at worst. Production values - never great to begin with - hit rock bottom, talented vocalists were replaced with rank amateurs and, worst of all, songwriting and musicianship simply vanished as the folk music parts provided by the group’s varied associates were crudely grafted onto increasingly anonymous, characterless metal songs with seemingly little effort put into actually coming up with cohesive or interesting songs.
So it’s safe to say that when I finally sucked it up and gave ‘Rulers of the sea’ a spin I wasn’t far short of blown away by how dramatic the improvement was in almost every department. Mercifully, the god-awful clean vocals that had degraded so much of their previous work were more or less gone, replaced for the most part by some very serviceable shrieks and growls. The production was also back to a listenable standard, and the whole thing was loaded to bursting point with some superlative lead guitar, something completely missing from the band for too long. And yes, it had well-written, well-played songs providing the groundwork for the more fanciful folk arrangements; they thankfully seem to have remembered that that sort of thing is generally quite important when trying to put together a good CD.
'Viking’s anthem' feels very much like a companion piece to its immediate predecessor, and carries on all the good work without falling into any of the old traps. The vocal issue may sound like a turn off depending on your stance on the harsher side of things, but the important lesson Folkearth seem to have learned is to stop trying to jam square pegs into round holes. I miss the upmarket clean singing from the earlier CDs as much as the next man, but given the choice between 80% of the vocals being screamed to a good standard against a more even match being performed by washouts there is only one sensible answer really.
The clean vocals – both male and female - that do appear still don’t always convince but are definitely to a higher standard (the boosted recording quality no doubt plays a part in that) and are used sparingly enough that it doesn’t become an annoyance. The gruffer approach is a good stylistic fit for the songs anyway, as overall the musical style has swung back to more overtly Scandinavian-sounding blackened folk design. There is only one acoustic-dominated song – right at the end of the CD – and with fewer soft breaks along the way there is a greater momentum and sense of direction to the piece as a whole.
The guitar playing really is something else and has come completely out of nowhere – whereas in the past virtually all of the melodies were performed on traditional instruments, there are some songs here where the band’s trademark flutes, whistles and whatever are shooed away almost completely in favour of some ripping lead playing, and the solos are often staggering in their execution.
In retrospect, it’s now easier to see that the loss of Yggdrasil’s Magnus Wohlfart after the first few Folkearth CDs may have caused the most damage to them, as he took with him not only his recording equipment that provided the passable production that held their early output together, but also his talents as a writer and a guitarist. Having finally recruited some fresh blood to properly step into the breach left by the Swede has made some of the shoddy material released in the interim seem like a bad dream in comparison.
I’m a big enough man to hold my hands up and admit that I called it wrong. When it comes to Folkearth, I was ready to stuff them into a plywood longship, take them down the duck pond in my local park and give them the pathetic send-off their last few CDs deserved, but with ‘Rulers of the sea’ and now ‘Viking’s anthem’ they are well and truly back on track. How long they can keep it going is a different matter altogether, and their ever-rotating line-up may well leave them short of options again in the future, but lessons have definitely been learned and a group on the verge of becoming a sad joke are back on their feet again.
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