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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Equilibrium

Sagas

Review by Mike Korn

Recently, there's been a huge surge of interest in "folk metal" bands that combine ancient melodies and instruments with the electric power and distortion of heavy metal. Groups like Korpiklaani, Turisas, Finntroll and Eluveitie are making waves all over Europe and are even starting to gather a cult following over here in the States. Well, with Germany's Equilbrium, an obvious leader of the folk metal genre has arisen...their album Sagas is a multi-faceted, aggressive and highly inventive effort that can attract the heaviest of metalheads as well as reaching beyond that fanbase into other realms of music.

Singing entirely in their native German, Equilibrium is in many ways the fastest and most ferocious of the folk metallers, often blazing away at warp speeds and featuring the hellish black metal screams and grunts of Helge Stang. There are no bewitching female vocals or comical drinking songs here. But at the same time, the group also creates some of the most epic melodies you are likely hear, using instruments as unlikely as Bolivian pan pipes, banjo violin. They easily switch from genre to genre, blending unlikely elements like Norwegian black metal, traditional German folk music, thrash metal, Brazillian influences, sweeping power metal guitar histrionics, symphonic music and even more into an organic and highly palatable stew.

This is a step up for the whole folk/pagan metal genre and provides 80 solid minutes  entertainment for the adventurous music lover!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Prolog Auf Erden
Amazingly, this three and a half minute song manages to throw almost every outstanding aspect of Equilbrium's music into its running length. Beginning with a huge orchestral flourish worthy of an epic Hollywood movie like "Lord of the Rings" or "Braveheart," it soon blasts into an incredibly furious black metal attack featuring the horrific screams of Helge Stang. The keyboards and symphonic touches stay throughout the song and at some points, the metal drops back to give way to a very medieval sounding tune. A sonorous voice intones German language commentary as the brief but epic piece builds to a mighty climax. This is just the start and already I am blown away!
Wurzelbert
With a beginning not unlike the previous song, this is another scorching up-tempo metal tune coming across like a cross between fast power metal and a furious polka, complete with accordion accompaniment! Stang's troll-like vocals don't soften for an instant and he also unleashes his lower register death grunts. Strong riffs, atmospheric instrumentation and a very catchy chorus are the highlights of one of the most aggressive folk metal tunes ever.
Blut Im Auge
This starts a bit more sedately with a bit of flute before the band again steps on the gas and unleashes a lightning quick metal blazer.  The riffs have a very Celtic feel to them...I really dig the very heavy "rocking" sections with Stang's deep growls. The keyboards add an epic touch but never overwhelm the guitars...a frequent complaint with these kinds of albums.
Unbesiegt
No, you are not going crazy...that is a Brazilian samba beat starting this song off! The Brazilian percussion continues throughout most of the song, even when it transforms to heavy metal. It's an odd combination that's somewhat awkward at times but pretty original.  There's a bit too much keyboard/synth for my taste here.
Verrat
Wow! This gets underway with a venomous blast of raging black metal that will have necks snapping and horns flying all over the place. Despite being the fastest tune on the whole disc, folk and symphonic melodies are not ignored, they are smoothly integrated into the black metal and give the song a dark, epic feel. There's flute and harpsichord at one point, but it doesn't weaken the heaviness one bit. Stang uses his guttural vocals more here.
Snuffel
If "Verrat" was the black metal song on Sagas, then this is the thrash metal tribute. What a great thrashing groove this monster has, with a riff sure to get your head banging like a Bobblehead in a wind tunnel.  There's also a feeling of fast power metal to the cut, especially on the wonderfully soaring chorus. At one point, they switch to an awesome grinding blues rock motif that could have almost come from Deep Purple. There's a ripping guitar solo and the last minute of the cut is a ferocious race to the finish with that killer opening groove again. It's a fantastic song, my favorite on an album full of classics!
Heimwarts
It sounds like the little people of Stonehenge are ready to start dancing with the folkish beginning of this cut, but once more the band steps in with a very fast and aggressive metal song. This time, though, the traditional instruments like accordion and even banjo are more in evidence than before and easily keep pace with the more metal sections. This is a fun tune, lasting less than three minutes.
Heiderauche
On this cut, the tone of the album begins to change very noticeably, as slower, more epic songs predominate. This is a sedate, uplifting tune where keyboards create the sound of a heavenly choir and a flute mournfully adds its tones. Not a rock song in the least, this has a very cinematic feel to it, like it could have been on the soundtrack of "Gladiator" or "Troy."
Die Weide und Der Fluss
Picking up where the previous song left off, this opens with a melancholy folk melody that soon becomes a slow and powerful metal epic. The pace is much slower here, though not doom, but the heaviness is definitely there. You can feel more than ever a feeling of ancient times through the classical instrumentation. The accordion is chief of the traditional instruments, but really, Equilbrium uses enough here to seem like a whole orchestra. The pace does pick up about half way through and gives this long tune a nice kick in the pants.
Der Sangers Fluch
Beginning acoustically, this lengthy track covers a lot of ground and again demonstrates how well the band can compose a multi-faceted epic. It has a very Germanic feel to it and the sing along chorus is about as catchy as anything in German has a right to be. Of all the songs here, this will appeal the most to fans of progressive and symphonic rock.
Ruf in den Wind
This is a bit of a return to the shorter, faster songs of the first half of the album. The tune is fast power metal like Rhapsody of Fire but mixed with folkish instruments and a melody that really sticks in the head. Don't know if I'm mistaken, but I think I hear a bit of Greek balalaika in there somewhere!
Dammerung
I would probably tag this as my least favorite song. It's got a very laid back feel to it and this time the folky stuff is on the corny and maudlin side. The song does develop some serious heaviness to it and Stang's screeching vocals make my throat hurt just listening to it. The cut is not horrible by any means, but lacks a lot of the manic energy and epic feel of the rest of the album.
Mana
As if to make up for "Dammerung," this 16 minute monster may be the most massive folk metal song ever written. Everything about this is huge and ponderous...despite the length, it's not overly complicated and relies on slow, powerful riffs accentuated with majestic choirs and simply overwhelming keyboards. Almost every instrument in the Equilibrium arsenal gets a workout here. There are many "false finishes" where you think the track has climaxed but then it continues on. This would be pretty annoying if the climaxes didn't keep getting louder and huger until reaching the ultimate apex. Nature sounds feature into the occasional breaks here and the song seems to be the aural equivalent of a trip across a massive alpine plain towards a range of gigantic mountains. It's a real tribute to the band that this never seems boring and it provides a more than fitting climax to a terrific album.
 
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