Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Svafnir - The Heathen Chapters (2008) 50/100.

Lately I’ve been running into a lot of neofolk/metal crossovers, including this here band, Svafnir, a Pagan metal band from Germany. This project, spearheaded by Alexander Suplie, is one of those type of acts that generally irritates me as they try desperately hard to bridge the gap between metal and non-metal sounds. As with ambient black metal bands, this sort of mesh of genres is so deeply satisfying when it’s done correctly but, the majority of the time at least, it ends up falling flat on its face only to embarrass everyone concerned. Whilst Svafnir aren’t short of talent, this debut full-length, entitled ‘The Heathen Chapters’, comes across as a mostly filler-type album, one which is seemingly constantly building to something much bigger and greater than it ever achieves, though that isn’t to say it isn’t possible in the future to achieve such heights. First and foremost, there needs to be more in the way of metal material for this to succeed as a metal album. It is almost entirely NOT a metal album, bar the occasional blasting of atmospheric black metal riffs or doomier growled vocals but these aspects are so few and far between, they’re barely worth making a note of.

As I said, acts like this who, on the surface of things, seem to be fully fledged metal bands and interesting to boot, tend to annoy me as they persistently miss the opportunities presented to them. Pagan metal, which tends to be very closely related to black metal, goes very well when mixed properly with folk music. In fact, it’s almost always the case that the two sub-genres of metal are intertwined due to their strong bonds and ties. However, many bands, including Svafnir, tend to place too much emphasis on one aspect of their style and not enough on the other, as is the case with ‘The Heathen Chapters’, an album which could be viewed as an ode to fellow extreme metal acts such as America’s Agalloch, a band who have on occasions got the mixture of harsh metal and gentle folk right. So much so I’ve even heard people stating this is next in line to Agalloch’s “The White” EP, one which has garnered much success since its release.

As an Agalloch fan, I must admit to be one of the only long-time fans who doesn’t particularly enjoy the oven fodder that is “The White” EP. It feels like a cheap gimmick in order to rake in money during the process when there’s a period of quiet from the band as they’re concentrating mostly on writing and preparing for a new full-length album. As with most of the fully instrumental songs on this album, of which there are a few, “The White” EP felt like a series of dull filler tracks which were supposedly meant to be admired for their outstanding natural beauty. I feel this is pretty similar to how Svafnir have acted on ‘The Heathen Chapters’, an album which uses all the clichés and cheap marketing tricks in the book to pull in a crowd of over-excited folk fans. Songs like ‘Zweige sich im Winde wiegen’ are prime examples of what I’m talking about. Although the occasional vocal blast may appear on numerous songs, the vocals were never set out to be the main talking point of the album - that, assumedly, is meant to be the work of the acoustics which, in fairness, can be emotive and lush, as on songs like ‘Shadows in the Water’, though the song isn’t developed too well towards the middle and end, though this doesn’t entirely surprise me.

The vocals, that is the growled vocals, are extremely poor. They sound like a cheap imitation of Opeth’s vocalist, Mikael Åkerfeldt, who does tend to have a strong voice. The clean vocals are decent but too infrequent/placed low on the priority list within the songs that they feature in, like on the aforementioned song where they’re whispered and barely noticeable for the most part, completely overshadowed by the genuinely melodious nature of the acoustics when they’re not afraid of expressing themselves and are too busy on practising their impersonation for the most timid sounding structures the world has ever seen. It isn’t a case of the album being so poor to the point of being downright offensive, it’s simply a case of being far too mediocre that it winds me up having to sit through this album several times over just to get a firm grasp on how and why it’s so mediocre. At least the production is good enough for me to hear how mediocre this album is. That at least was a bonus! This album features a few decent acoustic sections but the album is far too repetitive, lacking in a captivating atmosphere and largely forgettable to get worked up over.

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