Whispered: Metsutan - Songs Of The Void (Inverse Records)
Finland has a bit of a history with progressive, symphonic folk, melodic death metal bands with Wintersun, Ensiferum, Finntroll as well as Insomnium, Children Of Bodom and Norther. Whispered are the latest in line of bands that follow this style and they are somewhere between Wintersun and Children Of Bodom with razor sharp almost power metal riffs, played in progressive music that takes a lot influence from Japanese culture and music, they call it "Samurai Metal" and it's hard to argue otherwise. Opener Strike! gets you going sounding like the soundtrack to a Samurai film played by Bodom, the balstbeats are lightning fast, no way has drummer Jussi just got four limbs, while bassist Kai gets to show off his talent in the middle of the track building up to the epic solos that are shared between Mikko and Jussi, with Jussi also adding the harsh vocals, that are thankfully intelligible meaning that personally I was more drawn to the band than I am normally to melo-death.
The pace stays similar to a bullet train on second track Exile Of The Flooding World which once again has inhuman drumming and a heroic chorus choir before it slips into the middle section of solos and circuses. The lyrics and themes revolve around Samurai, Bushido and Japanese Mythology and this is audible in the music at every turn with some traditional Japanese instruments present throughout, yes it is a bit gimmicky but the band play so well it can be forgiven. Much like compatriots Wintersun the songs are complicated intense pieces that take you on a journey for their duration with the shorter numbers coming in between the album's longer more progressive tales.
I just have to mention the drumming again as it is continually astounding just how good it is but doesn't detract from the stellar performances of the rest of the band, it seems to me that while Japan does have a lot of power metal bands there doesn't seem to be an abundance of bands that deal with countries rich mythology meaning that Whispered have sort of taken the initiative and all the better for it, they also have contributed a theme to the newest Megaman video game which for a band that are not Japanese is kudos indeed.
Why be stuck with Babymetal and Karate when you can have Whispered bringing fire, honour and Katana to songs such as Kensei and Our Voice Shall Be Heard? They merge complexity with atmosphere providing a very strong set of ten songs that climax with the immense eleven minute final cut Bloodred Shores Of Enoshima which like the tales of Yūrei from Japanese legend rise from auspicious beginnings to evoke you with their power. Metsutan - Songs Of The Void is yet another superb album from the Finnish band (their third) and by rights it should get them the plaudits they deserve, or at least onto the Bloodstock bill, in the meantime you'll just have to play this record to death as it is brilliant! 9/10
Spell: For None And All (Bad Omen Records)
Spell hail from Vancouver British Columbia and along with what seems to be a new band every week they are firmly part of the NWOTHM that seems to be coming from the country, obviously the leaders of traditional Canadian metal scene are the unkillable Anvil but more recently bands like Cauldron and Striker have taken the spiked gauntlet and made the music their own. Up until 2013 Spell were called Stryker but probably due to the recognition of the other band with a similar name and the number of bands with the same name, their debut was released and 2014 and now 2 years later they have followed it up with For None And All.
By the negative tone of the title you can tell this is not going to be a tongue-in-cheek metal record with occult, dark references in the lyrics the band sound a lot like Cauldron due to their three piece bass heavy set up, the songs are proto-metal with nods to doom and psychedelia, however with music like this it is difficult not to be repetitive and unfortunately Spell do fall into that trap as a number of the songs on this record do sound very similar, yes there are some keys employed on Whipping Sigils and Seance and the band really tackle the stoner doom with River Of Sleep but tracks like Madame Psychosis and The Veil just have almost identical riffs and they are not the only songs that do this. For None And All is not a bad album but it is just a little too lacking in progression and scope to make much of mark. 5/10
Black Magic Fools: Soul Collector (Self Released)
Folk metal seems to be the genre that will never day, right the way back Skyclad in the 90's the mix of crunching guitars and folk instruments seems to stir something in even the most hardened metal fan, meaning that usually the gigs end in much jigging, dancing and of course ale quaffing. Black Magic Fools hail from Sweden and play what is essentially medieval folk with the metallic backline so expect powerful drumming, guitar riffs and solos mixed with the bands dual violin/fiddles from Ida and Katja as well as bagpipes, flutes and jew harps from frontman Pontus.
One look at the press release and you can see the band go all out dressing the part and blending the two genres together especially on Lies which has modern metal breakdowns and the dual violins doing their work in an almost shanty style song. There is almost a Pirates Of The Caribbeanesque sound to many of the tracks, due to the mix of traditional and electric instruments, with Black Jig a morbid tale of torture and death, infact this is a theme that goes through the album especially on the title track.
Unlike Whispered the songs on this record are shorter and more direct similar to Korpiklaani or indeed a folkier Breed 77 as Black Magic Fools have a similar modern groove metal sound setting the rhythm for the folk instruments to built upon, they even dabble with acoustic guitars on A Jester's Confession. Soul Collector is BMF's debut full length and it has enough on it to appeal to folk metal fans, it's let down a little by the muffled production but it's a jolly good start moving away from the happy clappy nature of normal folk metal and adding a touch of darkness to proceedings. 7/10