Tervingi - Gotensaga (2013)


There has always been something about the German language that has been intimidating, especially to those living in the Western hemisphere. Compliments sound like threats, and threats sound like verbal abuse in the worst way. There simply hasn't been a model we could use to understand and appreciate the language. But music transcends language, and even culture itself. It is no secret that Germany has long been a hotbed of metal activity, but never before has a band like Tervingi managed to come into our frame of vision. One part folk, one part thrash, one part symphonic, one part operatic, it is a unique mixture of styles and talents. With a charismatic and gifted vocalist at the mic, it might even be the perfect way uncultured clods like myself to remove the stigma of the German language. With beautiful vocal melodies that range from lullaby to tenor opera, it's no wonder that "Gotensaga" has begun to collect praise from all over the globe.

Taking the cinematic approach to the intro track, "Aufbruch zur grossen Wanderung," the band puts on a symphonic display of horns and strings that is sure to peak your interest. Part harrowing majesty, part fluttering whimsy, it paints an epic picture of what is to come; and the stretch of that portrait grows with every note. Because while the hammer drops, musically, on "Der Goten Eid," there is still something classical about the overall arc of the track. Hidden beneath layers of double kick drums and grating distorted guitars are the vocals, tride and true. Whether it is the lead, in a deep German drawl, or the gang chants of the chorus, they help to offset the unbridled aggression of the instrumental. In fact, the combination of those two elements results in a catchy folk melody that ties the outro together. With the tempo slowing down early on, "Die Seherin" is a good display of versatility. The addition of a heavenly female vocal to the mix creates a beautiful contrast, something furthered by the piano and bass duet that cascades through the later portion. The pedal rarely leaves the metal, however, as former Belphegor drummer Tomasz "Nefastus" Janiszewski smashes and crashes his way through the kit time and time again. But perhaps the most intoxicating melody on the album comes on "Toechter schnellen Wassers," where even the deep male vocal will elicit a sway of the head. The string accompaniment to another female passage fits all too well, giving the entire tale a nearly operatic covering. A softly sung lullaby ties up the loose ends in a neat little bow.

A thunderous gallop is the backbone for "Der Hoerner Ruf," a high tempo, higher energy affair where distortion and atmospherics form a sizable wall of sound and fury. While this may be the most stripped down and simplistic track on the album, it serves its purpose as a momentum builder, complete with some slick guitar work. The solo is interesting, as it seems to embody more of the power metal style than the melodic death/folk one being used throughout. The barely three minute "Reka" follows, once again giving you plenty of fodder for your humming pleasure. It is in this short spurt that you realize just how clean the mix is, with crystal clarity between layers. With an uptempo instrumental, and an upbeat lead vocal, there are challenges to overcome in the production, and the band passes with flying colors. "Der Abschied" takes a step back from that sonic assault to remind us that there are more in depth compositions at our feet. Strings, flutes and that rumbling voice of Johann Frey form the entire base of the track, joined later by a ripping guitar solo. Horns and keys can be heard in the middle section, layered over sizzling cymbals, arranged beautifully by keyboardist Julian Pešek. What stood out as a personal favorite was the mixed bag of tricks known as "Alewars Schmiede." The keyboard work comes forward in the mix, joining with the guitars and bass, rather than supporting them. The percussion work is dangerously aggressive, though being careful not to cross the line into overbearing. Frey delivers what may be his most powerful performance, booming over the top and setting the stage for the appearance of gang vocal passages.

The sounds of battle open "Witirichs Recken," quickly followed by the sounds of triumph. The ability to further their story through the use of guitar riffs and syncopated drumming is incredible, but the layered vocals are even moreso. But keeping the consistent melody in the vocals, it allows the instrumental to do amazing things, particularly the synthesizers. And while Frey may give memorable vocal performances, he also does wonders as a guitarist, along with Aria Keramati Noori. Don't be too distracted by the opening guitar riffs on "Stadt aus Asche," for it is the bass work of Todd Goldfinger that should garner some praise. His string shake and rattle underneath, giving a rousing kick in the ass to the entire mix. The result is a near flawless musical production, firing on all cylinders for the entire four minutes. You are treated to not only some rich melodies, but some of the most deft guitar work on the album. To enjoy it, however, you may need to pull yourself out from under the heavy hands of Janiszewski, who delivers destruction unlike any other. It could be said that the beauty of "Epilog" can't be measured in riffs and beats, but rather in the amount of time it sticks with you. To simplify the track would be a travesty, but it walks the fine line between ballad and down tempo march. Frey unleashes his voice in ways that didn't see much light on the previous ten tracks. But the true star here is Pešek, whose stunning arrangements and orchestrations help to elevate the track into a different level.

There isn't much of a thought needed when decided whether this collection of songs is worthy of multiple, perhaps hundreds of, listens; it certainly is. With Google and Bing offering free translations that are often incorrect or jumbled, it might almost seem worth it to simply enjoy the delivery, and admit defeat on the meaning. But, should you choose to delve deeper into the passages on "Gotensaga," you will find even more to like about Tervingi and the album they've created. The story begins to unfold in front of you in ways that would otherwise have been lost. If the time presents itself, pull out the Rosetta Stone, throw on your headset and microphone and take the time to learn a little German. Or use some form of translation software to help you along. The stories told through Frey's bass heavy voice and the surgically precise instrumentals are worth the time, and are there for the taking.

9/10

Official Site - http://tervingi.de/home/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/Tervingi