Thursday, 30 May 2013

Artaius - The Fifth Season (album review)

My attitude going into this one was that I never understood the genre classification 'folk metal'.  It seems no two musical ideas could be more diametrically opposed.  Folk is folk and metal is metal and the twain shall never meet.  Folk has nothing to do with blast beats and everything to do with the traditional, regional music that the local folk (of whatever region) have played long before there were such things as recording studios, pro tools and pitch correction software.  If the term folk metal is applied to music exhibiting the traditional qualities of metal then it should simply be called Heavy Metal or Traditional Metal.  If it's metal in a naturalistic setting, that is, the kind of music people play socially when just getting together to jam and play, the sounds produced would be nothing like the music that gets the 'folk metal' tag slapped on it.  If the term has arisen out of an apparent wedding of folk music with metal well, I simply don't hear the 'folk' part of it.  Folk music is not simply what springs up from the archaic instruments associated with it.

So maybe I was getting off on the wrong foot here.  Looking at Artaius, an Italian band, who consider themselves to be a part of this genre, have released their debut full-length via Moonlight Records.  I would say a more accurate description of the band would be Progressive rather than folk.  There are flutes and stringed instruments you play with bows and yes, there's even the odd chord progression one would associate with traditional music.  Flutes always evoke an image of the very forests that are the physical origin of the instrument's creation.  It's an almost supernaturally spiritual connection that is unavoidable and somehow beautifully life (or creation) affirming.  But these forest feelings are swept aside by the choking exhaust of space-age keyboards that make their striking first appearance early on opening track "Make The Iguana".

Fiddles and wood-chopping guitars get a rhythmic assist from some snakily zipping keyboards, spilling out into seventies smooth jazz with funk flourishes on "Over The Edge".  Got all that?  The entire album is draped  in this sort of crazy quilt of styles.  It would be so easy for Artaius to get hamfisted and crash right through the delicate lattice work they've set up by trying too hard to be different.  However, there's an undeniable genuineness to the overall sound, something natural in the coming together of the various influences found within.  Still, while the beautiful female vocals and male death metal grunts sing in "harmony" on this track, bringing to mind perhaps early Paradise Lost circa 'Gothic', one can't help but smile wryly at the effort nonetheless.  But despite the progressive overtones and challenging clash of styles this album isn't all about busting out the calculator and bursting brain vessels, there are moments of true neck breaking headbangery on display spread throughout the length of the album.  Amazingly, these moments are often underscored by flute or fiddle accompaniment, who the hell would have ever expected to headbang or mosh to that?  Folk Metal people I suppose.

It's not until about the time that "Prophecy" rolls across the speakers (about halfway through the album) that this thing comes together for the listener.  You've heard the pitch, you've sampled the introduction, now you have the proof of concept.  Here the band serve up their thickest cuts of riffs, dark as the acid trippin' pupil of Robin Goodfellow (sticking with the 'folk' theme), undeniably ear-watering (haha ... gross) and unrepentantly heavy, yes even the flute (yummy).  This is the point at which the album makes the most sense on first listen and paves the way for your ears to feast during the final stretch, the four winds suite and it's precursor "La Vergine E Il Lupo", which has a 2001: A Space Odyssey set in a Celtic forest vibe to it.

As I alluded to the last four tracks make up a 16 minute 'Wind' suite.  The styles of the band fall into place once again on "Wind of Revenge", revisiting that dark edge that gives this band such potential to become something truly special.

So has Artaius made me re-think my position on the supposed subgenre of folk metal?  No, not at all.  I still contend that this is prog music, complete with polyrhythms and formulae defying song structures.  But that's besides the point, because at the end of the day this is just metal, any further splintering of classification could only serve to dilute its impact on the listener.

Highlights include: "Prophecy" and "Wind of Revenge"

Rating: 3.5/5

Total Run Time: 50:29

Sara Cucci (Voice)
Andrea La Torre (Guitar/Growl)
Giovanni Grandi (Keyboard/Synth/Scream)
Enrico Bertoni (Bass Guitar)
Mia Spattini (Violin/Whistle)
Alessandro Ludwig Agati (Drums/Percussions)

From: Sassuolo, Italy

Genre: Metal, Progressive

Reminds me of: Lord of the Rings, Paradise Lost

Release Date: April 10, 2013

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: Finding the Mordor in your own backyard.

Better Review:
Sea of Tranquility
Prog Metal Zone

Artaius facebook

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