Folkodia - Odes from the past 3.5/5
1. Thus a viking dies
2. Born of thunder
3. Into battle
4. The malevolent
5. Defenders on the wall
6. High up in the sky
7. Bound for Valhalla
8. The swords of King Harald III
9. In the realm of Manannan
10. Sons of Europe
As if releasing CDs at a rate of more than one a year with Folkearth wasn't enough to keep them busy, a few members of the multinational project have branched off with a selection of other European musicians to form a similar band under the rather unimaginative title of Folkodia.
Recorded in similar fashion to their parent band, it features an assortment of vocalists and traditional instrumentalists from various territories contributing pieces of music that are applied to epic, viking/folk metal songs fashioned by the core musicians. The most immediate difference to Folkearth, and presumably the reason for this being billed as a separate project, is that the CD is much more compact than the sprawling releases of the original band, clocking in at a lean 39 minutes. With a much smaller cast of musicians (12 in total), it also feels like more of a combined effort between the group rather than a smaller band stapling on folk melodies to existing songs.
The vocal approach is varied, with 2 female vocalists and male vocals that alternate between brittle black metal croaks and resonant, Mathias Blad-like operatic tones, and the songs fluctuate between verse/chorus/bridge trade-offs on some songs, while others allow one style to take the spotlight for the duration.
It has to be noted that the production is likely to be a bit of a sticking point for some, and to be honest even the black metal enthusiast in me isn't overly keen on it. Obviously quite a low budget recording, there are times when the programming of the drums becomes painfully apparent, and the sound quality audibly creaks on occasion. This is most noticeable at the end of the chorus to opening track "Thus a viking dies", and ultimately shows that there is a difference between sounding raw and just a bit rubbish.
Oddly, it is actually the less 'metal' songs on 'Odes from the past' that strike more of a chord. In saying that, things really pick up after a hit-and-miss opening salvo with "Defenders on the wall" (nothing to do with either George R.R. Martin or dodgy political allegiances), which is one of the faster songs that actually works, built on an inescapable melody played on some sort of wheezing traditional instrument that in my ignorance I can't place. The closing song "Sons of Europe" (nothing to do with John Norum and Joey Tempest's children) also manages to marry speed with the traditional instruments successfully, where in some of the other songs feel a little more forced. "Thus a viking dies" is a decent song in its own right, but the acoustic-and-harsh-vocals bridge is just a few steps on the wrong side of ludicrous, and the piercing main flute arrangement feels as though it is just there because something in that style ought to be there. "The malevolent" is another stumble, and after the aggressive opening passage ends up sounding quite tired and predictable.
Far more successful are the songs where the heavier instrumentation meshes more cleanly with the input of the folk players - such as "The swords of King Harald III", which is one of the more upbeat efforts - or on the tracks that either start soft and build up or remain tranquil throughout. "Bound for Valhalla" features an unexpected and quite brilliant guitar solo as the songs transitions from soft to heavy, while "In the realm of Manannan" remains acoustic from start to finish and is a sure-fire winner with its mournful vocal delivery and gentle, picked guitar playing.
A CD that takes a while to get going, 'Odes from the past' is definitely worthy of a bit of patience and will reward a listener with some inspired European folk metal. In a scene that can't be far off saturation point more jaded listeners may not have time for this, but while they don't quite leap out from the pack, Folkodia definitely have a valid contribution to make.
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