Enid – Munsalvaesche (28 November, 2011 – Code666 Records)
Last weekend, my wife and I traveled to enemy territory* to catch the Korpiklaani+Arkona show. Because my mother’s farm is about three hours closer to Cleveland than the Valley of Steel is, I had arranged for us to spend Thanksgiving weekend at her place. Well, I think mom saw through my thinly veiled ruse, because in exchange for a couple days’ worth of free food and shelter within easy driving distance from Peabody’s, she decided that I needed to help put up her Christmas tree and hang the lights on it (she has an enormous nine-foot artificial tree, and lately it has become more difficult for her to get up and down a ladder).
Anyway, during all this decorating nonsense, we were treated to a variety of Christmas-themed music from mom’s extensive collection. This included a number of albums by Mannheim Steamroller, a multi-platinum selling, new-agey, electro-orchestral project of which she’s always been fond. Anyway, during the process of assembling the tree, my wife remarked to me that some of the music we’d heard the night before (i.e. the concert) was not too far removed from what was being played at the house that morning. I can see where she was coming from here — for example, the incorporation of traditional folk melodies and styles, and instruments such as the flutes and bagpipes used extensively by Arkona, into a more modern format, might superficially resemble the methods employed by Mannheim Steamroller. However, to me the pagan/folk metal movement seems to take the folk/traditional instruments, melodies, song structures and attitude, and directly blends these with metal instrumentation (and often, metal vocals). On the other hand, the traditional folk Christmas carols that are reinterpreted on the albums we heard, seem to be rearranged in more of a classical orchestration and then reproduced with modern, synthesized instruments. I would be more inclined to compare this with something like Wendy (née Walter) Carlos‘ Switched-On Bach series of albums, although the correllation would be more apt if it were electronic versions of works by classical composers who, unlike Bach, often incorporated traditional folk tunes (either of their own cultural heritage, such as Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances,” or those picked up elsewhere, such as Tchaikovsky’s “Cappriccio Italien”).
Anyway, all of this rambling is leading up to my review of the latest album, Munsalvaesche, by German epic/fantasy/symphonic metal artist Enid, which was just made available last week (28 November) through Code666 Records/Aural Music. Continue reading and you shall see (and hear!) why this album should appeal to fans of the folk-metal approach as well as the modernized folk-music-via-classical-arrangement approach.
Enid, which consists of composer/orchestrator/vocalist Martin Wiese, along with a collection of studio musicians, just recently (almost a month ago) came to my attention, through this review over at the Death Metal Baboon blog, even though this is actually their fifth full release (not including one EP and one demo). The description in that review intrigued me enough to want to check out the album, and now that it’s been released, here I am writing a review of my own.
The overall feeling of listening to this album is similar to watching a fantasy/adventure movie. There are various shifts in mood, multiple characters, and an overall sensation of grandness. The songs include lengthy instrumental sections, which are way more symphonic and orchestral than metal in nature, and much of the material here could very well serve as the score behind an epic film. Introductory track “Red Knight”, for instance, has some tremendous choir singing, sweeping string passages, and triumphant horn parts, that are all reminiscent of some of John Williams‘ work — specifically I was reminded of “Duel of the Fates” from The Phantom Menace, and after all, if you disregard the outer space setting, isn’t Star Wars essentially just a series of fantasy/adventure movies anyway? Some of the other musical motifs that appear here- a few melodies, and the tambourine part especially- also inject a more exotic flair to the sound, somewhat in the way of a piece like Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Cappriccio Espagnol.” Finally, of the voices in the choir, the deeper voices in particular seem to have an other-worldly quality about them- sort of a synthetic or electronic tone like a vocoder; I don’t know if this was an intentional choice or not, but the impression it leaves on me is similar to the backing vocal part on Alan Parsons Project‘s “(The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether.”
Following the primarily instrumental introduction, the next couple songs demonstrate the variety you can expect from this band. First you get “Legends from the Storm,” a piano-based ballad with some lovely, clean singing, that quickly incorporates electric guitar power chords, a driving drumbeat with occasional double-bass, and a handful of masculine voices sing/shouting a very viking-esque refrain of ‘hey’s. Then, “Belrapeire” hits you with even more chugging distorted guitars and an almost gothic-metal half-whisper of the song title for the refrain, while all of this is accompanied by a xylophone and strings trading off a counter-melody eerily similar to the background music from “Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)” as well as some synthy woodwinds that would not sound out of place on an Amorphis record.
The title track further reinforces the idea of an epic, symphonic, adventure movie score, while also including elements ranging from some lovely cello playing (some of which could easily have appeared in the Adagio of Dvorak’s “From the New World”), more electro-synthetic choir vocals (which might have been included in Carlos’ A Clockwork Orange soundtrack), some orchestral passages which are a bit reminiscent to the harmony/countermelody work of Ravel, as well as some harsh monstrous vocals, all of which is bookended by some righteous-sounding guitar soloing.
If this album were made available on vinyl, I expect that the jump between side A and B would appear between the fourth and the fifth song, “Condwiramurs,” which is another ballad-y affair. Despite the addition of some heavy drumming and a wall of grinding guitar strumming, this is predominantly a love song; between the beautiful piano and cello (which here sounds electrified) parts, the other strings in the background, and the power ballad vocals, this very nearly ventures into cheesy or corny territory. However, it seems so heartfelt and emotional that it manages to succeed, similar to a song like While Heaven Wept‘s “Vast Oceans Lachrymose” – saccharine to the point where you may need an extra insulin shot just to be safe, but totally fitting within the context here.
This is followed by “The Journey” which for the most part features a fast-paced drum shuffle with double or triple guitar leads, feeling like we are beginning to branch into symphonic black metal territory. The parts where the vocals enter, though, bring in some tambourine, flutes, and pizzicato strings, while everything else drops out- turning into brief interludes that have a very old madrigal sort of feel.
Next, “Valley Under Two Suns” brings in some doomy, epic power metal riffing, with some similarly epic singing- coupled with some demonic growled backing vocals. In contrast with the vocals from the song “Munsalvaesche,” which had an inhuman quality as though the sounds were perhaps made by a goblin or troll, here they have a much more malevolent tone, like some sort of being from the underworld.
Finally, closing number “Sheafs of Sparks” layers some piano and orchestra motifs beneath the bass, guitar, and drums, first seeming like they are setting the stage for a reprise of the haunting melodies of “Condwiramurs,” then falling back into the riffing that was characteristic of “Valley…,” and then the chugging metal chords of “Belrapeire.” On top of it all, some of the most lovely and elegant falsetto singing of the whole album dances in different directions, feeling simultaneously peaceful and melancholy. This last track seems as though a resolution to the whole journey has been reached, and we are now looking back over the triumphs and setbacks that led us here, while also looking ahead with a muted, yet still decidedly present, sense of hopefulness.
It’s my understanding that the underlying story behind this album is based on von Eschenbach’s novel Parzival. However, not being familiar with that particular literary work sort of frees me as a listener; I don’t have a preconcieved notion of what it’s supposed to be about, just as I am not tied to a particular visual image as I would be if I were in fact watching a movie. No, instead I can just close my eyes and imagine my own story to go with the sounds, as I would with other works that evoke emotional imagery like perhaps Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” or “Marche Slave.” The fact that there is some lyrical singing here doesn’t deter from my personal vision too much, as for the most part the words are vague enough to be interpreted as the listener should desire.
Anyone who, like me, is both a fan of heavy metal and also classical music; not just metal with some orchestral layers added, but truly a fan of pure metal and pure classical; and likewise, anyone who likes not just folk metal, but also likes folk and metal individually, should be very interested in investigating this album further. To begin with, I discovered that while I was in the process of writing this review, Toreignimmortal over at DMB added a follow-up to the original post there, which includes videos for two of these songs, the introductory “Red Knight” as well as the ballad (and as likely a candidate for a single as this album has to offer) “Condwiramurs.” Additionally, now that the album has been officially released, I’ve learned that the whole thing has been made available for streaming on the Enid Facebook page.
Finally, if you’ve decided you’d like to have a copy of this album for your very own, click here to buy the mp3 downloadable version from Amazon, or for the CD digipack version, visit the Aural Music webstore. Enjoy!
*For those not well-versed in American football, the Pittsburgh team (the Steelers, named for the same local industrial history as this blog) competes in the same division as the team from Cleveland (the Browns, named for the color of poop), and there is a fierce rivalry between the two cities that has extended back for many decades.