11/12/2005 § Leave a comment
You have to worry sometimes when venturing out of your home territory. Down my road, after about five minutes, is the wonderfully bleak and foreboding Highgate Woods. You would never, in your right mind, go there after dark. Well, you wouldn’t, unless you wanted to meet Strange People. Strange People come in many different shapes, sizes and noises, their overriding feature being that they are, indeed, Strange. They have beards, they vibrate, they hang about in woods, they hide behind trees and make noises and they spend a lot of time making other people feel uncomfortable, even though all they’re trying to do is ‘talk to you’. However, they’re all over the place and it’s a good idea to try to avoid them when you can. The last thing you should do is something crazy like give them a record deal.
I discovered Lumsk purely because people were telling me to avoid them and when people do that it’s always a good idea to try to disprove them. One way you can do this is by listening to the albums which you think people hate because of their outrageous ignorance and then you can point out that they are in fact incorrect and have no real sense of patience or duty towards music. It is at this point when you will be called ‘arrogant’ and sometimes even projectiles will be launched at you. Serves you right too. Such is the problem that picking up a Lumsk album will burden you with, not least because they make folk metal. Nevertheless, though I thought folk metal was only made by rebellious Morris dancers, Troll is a fantastic album and for many different reasons.
Lumsk released their first album, Åsmund Frægdegjevar, in 2003, which was another fabulous work offering many progressive, deep and chunky sounding songs with violins, haunting vocals and heavy guitars. Troll follows more or less in that fashion, however, this time there are fewer tracks and there is a far heavier folk element present. Gone is the guitar distortion in every song since this time only three out of the eight tracks on the album feature it. Whether this is a disappointment or not comes down to what you expect from the music – and what you will expect to like out of it.
The first thing that should be mentioned are the amazing vocals of singer Stine – and this is no exaggeration. Considering the ranks of poor female metal singers out there, when a good one comes to the fore it is nothing short of a relief. However, Stine is not merely a good vocalist, she is a natural talent with a wonderfully clean colour to her voice, she is note perfect and a total joy to listen to. The music given to her is very well fitted to her sound since it shows off what she can do with the greatest of ease: indeed, numbers like Dunker and the sensational Trolltind pierce through to a part of the mind that only the purest forms of sound can – this music is so clean and perfect it could almost purge anything it comes into contact with, in fact, it’s so good that if it were a schoolboy it would have ink pellets fired at it through envy and hatred by all that came into contact with it.
Troll, in the now signature Lumsk style, retains a heavy portion of progressive influence with quite a few tempo changes and yummy time signatures dotted about when you’re least expecting them. By far the best example of this comes in the enchanting Allvis, by far the most creative song on the album which begins with a three minute long happy folk section filled with major chord progressions only to deftly dissolve halfway through into a gorgeous instrumental with clicking guitar sequences which builds until it is beautifully smoothed over by Stine’s vocals. It really is a total pleasure to listen to and feels like striking oil in the otherwise barren wilderness of boring metal released in 2005.
The inventiveness permeates every song and Blæster, the longest track on the album, is eight minutes long with everything packed into it that the band are capable of. This includes, sadly, the male vocals, which are the thing that really lets this album down. They’re not that bad but there are times when Eben slides just under the note, and against the vocal perfection of Stine his imperfections are blindingly stark and rob her of her much-deserved limelight. Not only this, but one gets the feeling that the male vocals are actually quite unnecessary since they do nothing for the songs themselves and are only there as a token gesture towards the Gothic genre which also is quite a notable influence in Lumsk’s sound. The male vocals make themselves apparent in a couple of the other tracks too, but this time they are slightly more suited – there is the short but punchy Perpålsa, laden with violin and down-tuned guitars, and by far the strangest song on the album, Åsgårdsreia, which doesn’t feature Stine at all, and though there is plenty of good guitar work and enjoyable head-banging moments it still sounds strange – too strange to be enjoyable and strange enough to wonder if the band have all their mental screws fully tightened.
Troll really had the ability to be a perfect 8-track wonder. There is some divine musicianship, songwriting and vocalwork here and the sound production is undeniably of a very high class. However, on repeated listens it becomes clear that though Lumsk are a very clever and talented lot, they’re not clever enough to draw the line between folk innovation and what is actually enjoyable to listen to all the way through an album. The more ‘difficult’ sections are not so much an acquired taste, but an awkwardness waiting to be forgiven since if they can be overlooked then Troll really is a tasty package. Lumsk certainly can produce some very good folk metal indeed, its just a shame that some of it gets subsumed under the mire of the poorer sections. However, once you overlook this niggle, it’s nothing short of an amazing piece of work.
01/05/2005 § Leave a comment
Where would we be without siblings, eh. It’s always difficult when you consider yourself to be a spectacular talent and then one of your brothers or sisters comes into the limelight and begins to hog it. All of a sudden the memories come gushing back of past rivalries – Carmen used to get more chips than me, Carmen could go to bed later, and then, Carmen released a better debut album. You see, it’s only one short hop from competing at dinner portion sizes to getting albums released by major labels. Life can be difficult sometimes, especially since Midnattsol, for me at least, came out of nowhere offering Gothic Metal debut with a folk twist, lush sound production and some really rather good numbers, and for a first album, has a little more to offer than Leaves’ Eyes, not to mention a name that makes a little more sense. To me at least.
It shouldn’t take a Mastermind winner to work out by now that there’s a link between Carmen Elise from Midnattsol and Liv Kristine from Leaves’ Eyes, and indeed the link is that they are sisters. I had no idea that Carmen existed, let alone could sing and it was inevitable that the comparisons would start rearing their ugly heads as soon as Where Twilight Dwells was released. Well, how dare we. Can we not judge an album on its own merits? Of course we can’t, especially when the two are so damn similar, the only difference being that Where Twilight Dwells has a little more to offer than Lovelorn. Even if Liv and Carmen weren’t related, the comparisons would come thicker and faster than a blue whale at the height of mating season [four gallons if you must know]. There’s just so little difference between the two.
But what makes Where Twilight Dwells pip its challenger to the post? It’s pretty clear whilst listening to the first couple of minutes of Another Return that Midnattsol have some very complete and powerful tunes up their bunad sleeves. The guitars are creamy and full of strength, and there’s some nice drumwork going on, the kind of powerful bass-trilling that also befits bands like Sirenia so well. Not only that, but the production is gorgeous with the mix being more or less perfect. Carmen’s voice is unsurprisingly similar to her sister’s, the only problem being that it hasn’t matured well enough yet and there are quite a few instances where she’s a little off, especially in Haunted there are a few notes which are a tiny bit painful. Still, I’m prepared to forego this shortcoming, since the overall atmosphere generated by the music is a little special because the ensemble have injected an element of folk into the songwriting. It doesn’t go overboard or get too ostentatious either, but adds a slightly different lilt to the tunes which makes them more interesting than a lot of other Gothic Metal mush being thrown out by Napalm, and this is shown very well in songs like Lament, Desolation and Infinita Fairytale. Indeed, it’s a welcome relief.
Midnattsol also manage to throw in a few acoustic songs which befit the album rather well. Unpayable Silence comes across very well in this way, and not to mention Tårefall, where Carmen sounds a little more mature since the melody is clearly far suited to what her voice can do, which makes you wonder whether this genre really is the best thing for her. Still, whether she would be better off twisting her vocals round Morris dancing numbers or neat folk ditties is academic since she does sound rather good here, though I imagine by the next album she’ll sound a lot better. It’s quite obvious that she needs to do a little bit of development though, and she’ll do well as long as she doesn’t fall into the same trap as her sister, which is to sing a little thoughtlessly in places and to slide off the notes.
I have to say I hold out a lot of hope for this band. I like the feel of the songs and though the atmosphere they create is tangible, it’s not quite as vivid as I would like. Thankfully they also manage to create some good feelings with their softer songs, and this is shown nowhere better than in Tapt Av Håp. The only problem the album really shows is that there are a couple of tunes, such as Dancing With The Moonlight and Enlightenment, which really shouldn’t be there at all since they’re so awfully bland, they drag the album down and make the listener realise that there’s really not an awful lot of variety in the songs in spite of the fact that the band do try to throw some in. As a debut, its really not a bad one, but there is still a lot of room for development here. Midnattsol need to get some more distinguishable songs and not be too scared to make their numbers even more folky. Gothic Metal is not altogether an unforgiving genre and the next time round they could actually come up with something pretty special. There is a lot of potential here, and watching it grow should – justifiably – be a satisfying process.