Tengwar - The halfling forth shall stand 3.5/5
1. Return of the shadow
2. A long expected fading
3. The halfling's rise
4. War begins
5. Marching south
6. Snow and defeat
7. The password
8. A dwarf sings in the dark
9. Fire and shadow defied
10. The pilgrim's gone
11. In the land of the golden trees
13. The swan
15. The bearer's choice
Concept CDs about The Lord of the Rings are dime a dozen in this day and age, but folk metal bands from Argentina are curiously rather the opposite. Looking to add to both arenas are Tengwar, whose debut ‘The halfling forth shall stand’ is a generally very satisfactory retelling of The Fellowship of the Ring portion of the great tale through the medium of metal and a countless sea of traditional instruments.
Much like their Buenos Aires neighbours Skiltron, Tengwar’s style is built on a hearty foundation of riff-driven power metal, though the debutants take much less of a blunt force approach and their debut is a towering epic, twisting and turning all over the place. Rather than sticking to a particular style of folk music, there is a rather rich mixture of more typical celtic and medieval sounds with much less commonplace traditional Galician music. A large part of this latter style comes in the form of hypnotic rhythmic chanting, which is just one facet of a bustling variety of vocal styles. At the front of this is the throaty voice of the frontman, Thorvi, though female vocals, more than one different style of choir and some nicely malicious growling from now ex-guitarist Nighurath all compete for attention as well.
One thing that must be said to Tengwar’s credit is that despite the lyrical subject having been raked over countless times before, they manage to present the story in a way that feels as though they aren’t simply recounting scenes from the motion picture version and present the lyrics in a fashion that leaves a little ambiguity and isn’t cringingly on the nose.
Through the large array of instrumentation and vocal styles, they have also successfully managed to convey the feeling of a journey taking place in ‘The halfling forth shall stand’, which is very much a key theme of The Fellowship of the Ring. At 66 minutes the CD is a hefty one, and despite occasionally feeling rather cluttered, the musical variety gives a broad canvas for the band to paint on, and the space to fashion different moods appropriate to different parts of the tale. “Fire and shadow defied” is maybe as theatrical as the CD gets, the recurring breaks in the riffs where the woodwind trills crafts an escalating tension that perfectly reflects the lyrics.
There are occasional moments of dissonance between the part of the story being told and the nature of the music, but at other times they nail it dead-on perfect, particularly as the CD approaches its conclusion. “The swan”, through achingly gentle acoustic strings and a beautiful female vocal performance, captures the perfect mood of longing melancholy, while the thudding bass line that opens the following song, “Uruks” immediately sets a scene of menace and the pounding of the Orcish horde’s feet is practically audible.
Perhaps the only thing going against “The Halfling forth shall stand” is that its own sheer size works against it. While the listening experience itself is rarely a dull one, after the CD has come to a stop it is a little difficult to go back and pick out truly memorable moments that give each song its own special identity. To be fair however, we are talking about a large-scale concept piece here, and it was never going to be about individual songs in any case, though a little more consideration for this could have gone a long way to pushing the CD up a notch or 2.
Perhaps the main vocals are a little to blame here, as while Thorvi’s booming voice is always powerful, his performance perhaps isn’t commanding enough to become the anchor of the songs the way it should, and leaves some of them without a focal point. It’s not a big gripe, but it is enough to ensure that while Tengwar have made a powerful debut, there is still a little work left to be done when they get around to The Two Towers.
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