Friday, September 18, 2015

Folkvang - Never Say Never

Folkvang’s Never Say Never is a forceful folky black metal album with the unusual distinction of having a traditional heavy metal riffing backbone. This album was created by multi-instrumentalist Wind, who is backed up only by Incarnatus of Pagan Hellfire fame on drums (except for track 4). Although that may essentially seem like a solo-black metal setup, the sound is completely professional and full enough to show that Wind actually understands every instrument he plays. Moreover, the even composition and unique style show the project’s maturity - a well defined identity forged in the years since the band’s creation. The best comparison I can come up with is Windir’s 1184, but that’s a fit only for the guitar tones. In fact, the tremolo picking is often relatively sparse. Wind’s coarse vocal approach is really the strongest connection the album has to the stereotypical black metal approach, and although the word “folk” is in the band name, the metal influences are always still in the forefront.

Despite the wide range of emotions that music can offer to its listeners, Never Say Never has quite an atypical feel - a kind of sober yet playful take on mortality. It’s a feeling conveyed through the lyrics, artwork, and music; obviously with increasing levels of abstraction. Musically, this comes across through how the mood carefully balances somber melodies with sweeter ones, all while maintaining a subdued sense of galloping triumph. The balance is most obvious in the absolutely unforgettable opener “Who Wants to Live Forever?” which also boasts a fair share of the album’s black metal riffing. The track works as a really nice summation of the album’s varying styles, especially because these influences become more stratified as the things move along. What really brings the album together as a great piece of music is how damn pleasant it is without devolving into gaudy kitsch.

Never Say Never is the kind of album that doesn’t knock you over the head with how well put together it is. It’s high quality music that reveals itself over time, and this isn’t a problem at all for Folkvang because this album is one that you’ll keep coming back to. From the clean guitar lines to the folky “From the Past to the Future,” to the Immortal-esque “Massacre,” the variety of sounds always seem to fit together perfectly. The major unifying force for it all are Wind’s vocals. Wind’s style isn’t quite as croaking as Abbath’s are; the vocals are quite coarse yet not terribly raspy. More laryngitis addled cigarette smoker than screeching demon. The addition of a light touch of echo helps flesh out the sound, and because the vocals are the most abrasive aspect of the music they also balance out some of the more sugary lead guitar melodies and tones.

It’s worth mentioning that aside from being an Eastern European band with a folk/black mix, Never Say Never doesn’t have a huge structural overlap with Drudkh’s output. From what I have heard from Folkvang’s prior releases, this makes Never Say Never a bit of a deviation from an earlier atmospheric black metal sound (Folkvang has even covered Burzum’s “Dunkelheit”.) This release just has such a heavy and rhythmic riffy feel to it that it sets it apart from scores of minimalist contemporaries. Of course, the project’s core identity isn’t compromised by the change. This is really good stuff, and has such a palatable mix that I’d even recommend it to people who aren’t normally into black metal.

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