Viking metal has quickly become one of the most widely loved subgenres across the world. You would be hard pressed to attend a metal show (a real one, not a metalcore show) and not see an Amon Amarth or Ensiferum shirt wandering through the crowd. As such, the number of bands carrying the viking title have increased exponentially. And while many of them have earned their stripes, many have yet to do so. Drunar, a four piece outfit from Belgium, fall squarely into the latter. With epic soundscapes in mind, but a lack of fine tuning at the knobs and levers, this band might have a long journey of mediocrity in store. With the six songs on "Testimony" rife with poor recording, mixing mess ups, and mastering woes, it is hard to separate the ideal from the final product. And regardless of how optimistic you are for the future, it is hard to hear the good things clearly.
The title track, "Testimony," is a tone setter, leaning heavily on epic arrangements and a wide array of instrumentation to get the ball rolling. Laid out over the crashing waves, it serves its purpose, rolling right into the first full track, "New Shores." Despite all of the sounds at play, the mix does a poor job of showcasing them all. Instead, the synthesizers come through most clear, while everything else struggles to get above water. Only when the keys fade away do you even realize there is a guitar at all. This stilted mix can be a horror, and becomes a recurring theme for the album. On the vocal front, a shrill blackened screech shares time with a clean chant, a fairly solid contrast from verse to chorus. And though it stands as a well written and conceived track, "Rise Of The Northmen" is hurt considerably by the inconsistency of the recording. The band does their best with what they've been given here, and it remains as successful an endeavor as any on the album. But rather than working as one, each element competes with the others, often resulting in one at a time being heard clearly. A short bass solo in the bridge is one of the few times you get the true low end.
Harkening back to the majesty of the opening track, "Father Odin"uses the strength of the synths to bolster an otherwise flat track. Oddly enough, they achieve some degree of balance as a result, though still falling short in many respects. The synthesized horns are well thought out, but fall on deaf ears for much of the track. All of these uneven times lay far too much of the burden on the vocals. And while they remain a constant throughout, there isn't enough of a punch to shoulder the entire load. The most complete track on the EP may very well be "Lasabrjotur." By removing the vocals, they have cut out one layer and thus lightened the strain on the mix. As a result, you finally get a more clear presentation of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. Each one adds a subtle element that was lacking before. But as the screeches return on the closing track, "Dawning Of The End," so do the woes of the engineer. Taken at face value, there are a lot of good things happening, but they lie buried in a muddled mess. And, unfortunately, the constant muffling leaves each track sounding like the one before it.
Somewhere between inception and finished product, there has to be some degree of quality control. While the use of raw recording methods may work for some, it can be the death of others. Drunar seem to have the talent to write worthwhile pagan metal tracks; they seem to. It becomes hard to say for sure, thanks to the pillow that smothers everything they've worked hard to create. Whether their hands were working the board or someone elses, someone should be taken to task over the end result. When all is said and done, you have an album that plays out like six versions of the same track, buried beneath layer after layer of cloudy nothing. In the few brief moments that do allow the listener to hear the music as it was intended, you can almost appreciate the work that's gone into it. But until the lid is taken off, and the music is allowed to breathe, "Testimony" may become a "how not to" for audio school grads to come.
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