Svartsot - Ravnenes saga 3.5/5

Reviewed: 1-25-08





Tracklist:

1. Gravollet
2. Tvende ravne
3. Nidvisen
4. Jotunheimsfaerden
5. Bersaerkergang
6. Hedens dotre
7. Festen
8. Spillemandens dase
9. Skovens kaelling
10. Skonne moer
11. Brages baeger
12. Havets plage


Folk metal in its various incarnations is spreading like wildfire at the moment, with a great deal of variety now appearing in what would initially appear to be a fairly limited field. From its beginnings with Skyclad and various black metal bands looking to explore their Nordic roots, the subgenre has come a long way. The extremes of the genre show on one side of the coin power metal dressed up with traditional instruments and melodies, and on the other harsher outfits that have grown one way or another from the influence of black metal.

Svartsot sit clearly on this side of the fence despite there being virtually no black metal aspect to their sound, the music on their debut CD 'Ravnenes saga' is as pounding and aggressive as it is melodic and rousing. The guitars have a wonderful crunch to them often missing in this style, and thankfully are given the main job of directing the songs instead of merely providing background noise. Frontman Claus B. Gnudtzmann's vocals are likely to be the make-or-break for fans more accustomed to more melodic folk metal. His rolling, guttural death growls, interspersed with occasional black metal shrieks, receive very little accompaniment from the perhaps-expected choir vocals and are likely to turn some listeners away.

That is not to make the suggestion that Svartsot represent a joyless dirge, as the melodies that lace each song are relentlessly upbeat. The songs have all clearly been written with a strong focus on the metal aspect of their sound, with surprisingly few folk instruments utilised throughout the CD. Their presumably-imported flautist Stewart Lewis overlays every song on the CD with his contributions, but the songs themselves probably would not suffer terribly were his parts to be erased from the recordings. On a few occasions it even feels as though the woodwind accompaniment has simply been grafted on to existing songs, often harmonizing a little too closely with guitars. In these instances, the songs would perhaps be better served if the guitarists were allowed to get on with it by themselves. Hopefully as the band grows together they will learn to mesh their metal and folk aspects together more seamlessly, and get rid of the faint impression that the flute parts are simply there for the sake of being there.

As the CD progresses, it begins to show more diversity compared to the fairly uniform opening clutch of songs, with a few lunges into more bouncy, fist-pumping Korpiklaani-type folk metal, best exemplified on the midpoint track, "Festen". The closing track, "Havets plage", like that on Ensiferum's debut, features the most ridiculously folksy melody the band have yet crafted, and ends proceedings on something of a cheeky note. It goes to show that straight-faced and aggressive folk metal can still be unbelievable fun to listen to. With folk metal continuing to spread and even, absurdly, achieving minor crossover appeal here in the U.K., it will inevitably reach the point where debut CDs will have to be approached with a greater degree of caution. Thankfully, 'Ravnenes saga' will not have to be filed as such. Svartsot promise a great future.



CREAG




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