Svartby - Elemental Tales (2012)



The reach of folk metal knows no bounds. Saint-Petersburg, Russia based band Svartby are doing things a little differently, which is a blessing for those who are sick of the same ol' grind. With a touch of synth and orchestral tones, they have branded themselves a "brutal folk metal" outfit, with not a single song about trolls. And while the lyrical content does follow the goings on of imps, dwarves, and witches, there is a merry melody to it all. On "Elemental Tales," this five piece do things their own way, an idea that pays off in spades.

That air of merry mayhem leads of "Impby," a jolly little tune that takes the sounds of nature, and pairs them with a mischievous laugh. Throw in some synth powered melody, and you have a track ready to burst at the seams. And, I assure you, the seams are torn apart in the opening moments of "Scum From Underwater." The first blood curdling screams cut through the mix, heavier than anything the traditional folk metal branch has ever given us. The drums are pure insanity, crashing from every speaker. The riffs are thrashing violently, while the keyboards paint a completely different picture. The dainty tones keep the track lighthearted, somehow, amidst all the musical chaos. An unexpected, but very welcomed, guitar solo cuts off the keys, and puts an exclamation mark on a three minute chainsaw of a track. That stunning contrast between dense, thunderous metal and the almost circus melodies behind it continues through "Boulder Massacration."  Who knew hard edged folk metal could be so... fun? Even the guitars take on a lighthearted tone in the breakdown, only to erupt again in a devastation flash of chugging riffs and solid drumming.

The appearance of acoustic guitars to open "Sleepy Devils" sets the track up for success. Even as the full band joins in, complete with whispered, raspy vocals, the layers of the mix each have their own distinct sound. The vocals don't stay quiet for long, but rather build to a chant, and then further into deep growls. There is definitely something to be found in the lyrics themselves, which may require some side reading to fully understand, but it will be time well spent. The short xylophone style interlude that splits the track up is as enchanting as anything you will hear in the realm of metal. Followed by another deftly played solo, this is the track that could get anyone hooked. It is immediately followed by "Mushroom Rings," with a lyric video here,a track that caught many an ear since it was released. This is a story track, with an eighties feel to the synths. It may be difficult to sit still during this one, as the riffs and rhythm may get you moving very quickly. The drums are relentless, always pounding out a perfect tempo for the flurry of guitars and bass. The keys tickle your ears while the pure metal output keeps you wanting more.

The stomping madness of "Done With The Wind" is a showcase of what this band can offer that so few others can. The organized chaos that you find here is a force to be reckoned with. The guitars are huge in scope, switching from fret work to chugging in no time. The drums are heavy, but not in the normal sense. They are captivating with every roll or fill. The keys are airy and light, and the vocals continue to grind through you. Separately, they are good. But smashed together in a track like this, and they are gold. In sharp contrast, "Ash And Dust" has that delicate feel that may catch you off guard. The keyboard supplied woodwinds and strings are delightful, barely coming to a low roar. This is a well conceived and wel executed break in the action before "Flaming Balls" comes flying your way. Much like the name suggests, this one is pure fire. Raging forward with high speed and high levels of aggression, it quickly becomes the proverbial bull in the china shop. The whirlwind of keys and synths take the lead role, backed by a hurricane of wild drums. The vocals are chock full of devilish growls and screams, grating on your ear drums.

With a twirling, winding melody leading the way, "Morning Wood" begins your landing on the final tracks of the album. If you haven't begun to dance by now, this is the time, with the synths alone eliciting a toe tapping response. But make no mistake, friend. With the combination of distorted guitars, low, rumbling bass and equally abusive drums, this isn't a teeny bopper type of dance party. In the span of 210 seconds, you may find yourself slamming into things with all of your might. And what that track started, the title track, "Elemental Tales" will finish. The slamming of the kick drum finally breaks the sound barrier, coming down on you with a massive thud. The keys mimic an accordion sound at times, arguably the jolliest of all instruments. The track builds and builds, until everything explodes into an outright beatdown of musical proportions. The closing track, "Imp Slam" is... well, the track should speak for itself.

I never knew it was possible to headbang with a smile on your face. Svartby have crafted an album that makes you feel good, without removing the best elements of metal itself. But this isn't one dimensional, musically, unlike some of the more widely known folk bands. There is a focus on songwriting, but also creating a diverse depth of field. Adding multiple synth sounds turns this into some more than "folk metal,"a fact that is apparent by the time you get halfway through the album. No trolls, no vikings, no problem. "Elemental Tales" stands up on its own.

9/10

Official Site - http://www.svartby.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Svartby/