posted on 7/2008 By:
It should be a well established fact to anyone remotely familiar with the critical appraisal of the arts that the volume of content produced by the world at large is very great, to say the least. Even only regarding a specific type of music, the amount of recorded product that passes through critical ears in any given year is no trifling quantity, to be sure. And much of it is enjoyable. One could probably never find the end of music one could moderately, or even very much, enjoy. There's always something out there that is a highly respectable "pretty good". Little of it, though, is something that will be remembered years after release. For me, the rise of folk and pagan metal has been more than generous in that area, as I will always remember when I first heard the first two Ensiferum albums, Moonsorrow's Voimasta Ja Kunniasta and Verisäkeet, Amon Amarth's Once Sent From The Golden Hall, Falkenbach's ...Magni Blandinn Ok Megintiri..., and… well, basically, all of the time-honored forerunners of the young subgenre. Bands whose thrones of prominence have been firmly planted in the halls of metal history. Bands among whom Equilibrium now sits, atop as ornate a throne as any of the others.
It would not be unreasonable to say that Sagas is in an entirely separate league from their debut, Turis Fratyr, which was no less than excellent. That isn’t to say that their style has changed drastically; in fact, it hasn’t changed at all. Equilibrium is still black/pagan metal with various folk elements interwoven, most notably the flute. It is the execution that has evolved significantly since we last saw the band only three years ago, in so much as the new album is a mature, refined, weathered Equilibrium. The orchestration and composition exhibits a level of care and finesse that rivals the most dramatic cinematic score. The melodies traded between guitars, flute, and keyboards are tightly spun, making typical metal songwriting sound crude and brutish by comparison. Small, impressive flourishes by all instruments can be found in abundance. In short, Equilibrium regards folk metal as a fine craft, and has created a gem that so much time and talent has clearly gone into it is almost unfathomable to think that only three years went into its making.
To call Sagas any combination of grandiose, majestic, epic, or any similar words would be a gross understatement. At the same time, however, it is notable that Equilibrium avoids every cheesy pitfall that plagues most metal soundscapes of larger proportions. There are no awkward spoken passages, only snarled black metal screams. There are no overbearing sections that hammer the listener with overwrought vocals or melodies, nor is there anything that would cause one to shift guiltily in one’s seat. The amount the band has matured their sound is how much the band has matured the sound of epic metal as a whole. The way the various instruments seemingly dance with the furious guitars chills the spine, particularly the wondrous pan flute (played by Ulrich Herkenhoff, whose talents are present in the score for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) that can be heard throughout the whole album. There is no folk metal that is as seamless and cohesive as can be heard on Sagas. Every single song is a masterful fusion of bombastic conventional metal and equally bombastic supporting instruments. The sum is too powerful for words. “Heiderauche”, a beautiful pan flute instrumental, and “Die Weide und der Fluß”, an awe-inspiring combination of choirs and absolutely epic guitarwork with a magnificent guitar solo, are a duo the likes of which is rarely heard. But to distinguish any song from the rest feels like a slight to all of the brilliant instances on every song. A slight to, for example, the violin solo on the already momentous sixteen minute instrumental “Mana”, the wonderful pan flute transitions of the same song, the enthralling melodies of “Ruf in den Wind”, the grace of “Dämmerung”, the whimsy of “Heimwärts”, the crescendo of “Verrat”, the triumphant flight of “Snüffel”, the galloping opening of “Wurzelbert”… Simply put, every minute is riveting and emotional, effortlessly carrying the listener into sublime landscapes.
And while the quality of the songs contained within Sagas is almost unrivalled, Equilibrium is not content to supply that alone. When “Dämmerung” begins to close, the melody harkening back to “Prolog auf Erden” a full hour earlier, the listener has already been given more than is usual for a full-length disc. As the pan flutes usher in the end of “Dämmerung”, the listener has enough to reflect on, to immediately replay and eagerly re-experience. There is still, however, the aforementioned sixteen minute instrumental by the name of “Mana” left to hear. The fact that “Mana” could be considered the crown jewel of what is a masterpiece of an album even without it is staggering. The flow of the melodies and tempo, the flawless transitions, the pervading theme throughout that serves as perfect closure, the grippingly dramatic composition, all of it falls into place, every note the crucial brushstroke that could not be placed anywhere else or removed. Where most bands stumble and end up including weaker material in the misguided hopes that more is better, Equilibrium shines without peer.
It is here, at Sagas, that the countless merely above average bands that make up the bread and butter of monthly musical consumption fade from memory as time passes. This is a recording that will stick with me for many years to come, the time spent first listening to it, and constantly replaying it, emblazoned into my memory. This is the rare work that transcends the surrounding scene entirely, and speaks to the listener on a personal level as art. Sagas is a perfect album, and is, without question or hesitation, the album of the year, and of recent years. It's here, at Sagas, that I am not a reviewer, but rendered an ardent fan who cannot string together any arrangement of words that would accurately encapsulate or do justice to the immensity of the music I attempt to address.
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