Kivimetsan Druidi - Betrayal, justice, revenge 3/5
1. Lament for the fallen
2. Aesis lilim
3. Seawitch and the sorcerer
4. The visitor
5. Manalan vartija
7. Chant of the winged one
8. Of betrayal
9. Desolation: White wolf
10. Veljet (bonus track)
11. Where hope and daylight die (bonus track)
Kivimetsan Druidi's debut, 'Shadowheart', was one that showed plenty of promise and interesting ideas, but ultimately failed to fully deliver. Their mix of symphonic and folk metal was a cluttered one, with styles clashing not only between songs but also during them, as they struggled to find a balance between blackened folk heaviness and their lighter, operatic side.
'Betrayal, justice, revenge' is a more unified effort, and hints that the Finns have found the aspect of their sound they are most interested in pursuing. Unexpectedly, it is the folk metal side of things has fallen by the wayside somewhat, and the CD is mostly made up of epic symphonic battle hymns and laments. Ultimately though, it ends up just as unsatisfying as its predecessor, albeit for slightly different reasons.
Rather than being affected by jarring leaps from one style to another, here they have instead served up a more unified batch of songs that sway from exciting and powerful to meandering and unmemorable - sometimes even during the course of the one track. Guilty of this is the opener 'Aesis lilim' - an unusual starting point, not only because it is something of a sorrowful atmospheric piece, but also for the rather out-of-nowhere break in the middle that almost feels like a different song altogether until it kicks back in to the main event. It is an otherwise a terrific song with a wonderful, despairing melody - one so good they even built it into a beautiful piano piece that serves as the intro track - and this only serves to frustrate as in a leaner, more streamlined form it no doubt would work a lot better.
And sadly, the niggling feeling that the band would be better off without Leeni-Maria Hovila at the forefront just won't go away. While thankfully they have sorted out the drum sound on this CD - the overly loud bass pedals on the debut often crushed the frontwoman's vocals completely - there are still moments where it feels like her vocals are only there because it wouldn't be right to excise her from the song completely. "Seawitch and the sorcerer" is a prime example, as just as the song reaches its heaviest, with Atte Marttinen blasting away mercilessly behind the kit, she is called upon to perform some ridiculous, wordless wailing over the top of everything that serve only as an annoying, out of place distraction.
The review so far has been negative, and is probably going to create a false impression - 'Betrayal, justice, revenge' is certainly not without its charms, but the feeling that it could have been a lot better than it ended up is the one that stays with me after each spin. To pay some lip service to the positives though, it has to be said that when the band get heavy, they really don't take any prisoners - despite my bitching about the female vocals getting in the way, "Seawitch and the sorecerer" is otherwise brilliant if you can ignore the obvious drawback. "Of betrayal" is similarly heavy and thankfully on this one they finally relent and turn all vocals over to guitarist Joni Koskinen, whose vicious blackened shrieks contend with the refined keyboard playing as band's best asset. Shifting from slow-pounding midtempo to rasping high-speed dissonance, it would maybe be the finest song on the CD were it not for the brilliance of 'Tuoppein'nostelulaulu'. A full-blown folk metal song, it stands out from its companions with ease and burns with a manic energy not found elsewhere as violins, handclaps and jangling acoustics are joined by a surprising clean vocal turn from Koskinen that fits the celebratory mood perfectly.
When listening to this song, along with the re-recorded demo track "Veljet" that serves as one of 2 bonus tracks, it becomes startlingly apparent how far Kivimetsan Druidi have advanced their sound, and while it may have been a good idea on paper for them to take a step back from a niche that has become unbelievably cluttered, the liveliness of these efforts compared to the plodding nature of some of the more 'serious' ones raises questions as to which of their main styles they are actually best at.
Both bonus tracks in fact are well worth hearing - the other is a successful cover of Summoning's mournful epic "Where hope and daylight die" and forking over the extra few notes for the limited edition is worth thinking about, though they do draw the CD's length out way beyond what it should be. In a perfect world these songs would have been incorporated into the main body of the CD at the expense of some of the more forgettable moments, but ah well, if wishes were horses...
While swinging wildly from hit to miss, the optimist could argue that at least here the band have managed to find their own defined voice, and with less jumping to and fro from one style to the next have a more solid platform to build on for the future. 'Betrayal, justice, revenge' still can't come with more than a lukewarm recommendation though.
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