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Though my own opinion leans quite solidly in the other direction, I can certainly understand a lot of the objections to the entire category of ‘folk metal’. One of the arguments against the genre, which I think has a good deal of validity, is that ‘folk metal’ is a great big catch-all for music which carries certain culturally-specific or ‘ethnic’ or ‘international’ elements, and which is otherwise undescriptive. However, this argument does tend to cut both ways. In the case of Епизод’s album Българският Бог, what you have are mostly folkish trappings (male choirs and organ on ‘Паисий’, or the Eastern Christian-sounding laments of female soloists and the addition of a child vocalists on the chorus of ‘Хайдути’, or the rousing sing-along type verses on ‘Хаджи Димитър’) glued onto a framework of basic, stripped-down traditional heavy metal of a decidedly B-grade variety. Епизод will absolutely work out these kinks on later albums, in particular the by-turns catchy and haunting but always-creative Народът на Дуло, but here it still just sounds like they are trying to figure out how to make their basic formula work.
‘Левски’ is a good example of how the chimaeric combination shows some vague promise of being streamlined, but still nonetheless comes off as disappointing. The drumwork, vocals and basic tempo all hold tantalising hints at a successful texture, but the stark contrast with the rhythm guitarwork, which seemed to be always fighting with the overmixed drums, jarred this listener out of his enjoyment of the song and all but completely ruined the atmosphere. On the other hand, the follow-up in ‘Хайдути’ is an instructive counterpoint, since it melds these influences much more dexterously, with the guitarwork not fighting with the folk instrumentation, but rather gently following logically from it. What you end up with is one solid chunk of Slavic folk-metal which might compete with, say, Holy Blood, complete with all the ‘heys’ and foot-stomping ale-swinging rhythm your heart could desire. (Though, naturally, they are approaching folk from the vantage point of traditional heavy metal rather than from black metal and metalcore.) The addition of the female and child vocals aren’t really necessary with Emil Chendov belting out the vocals at full power, but they add enjoyable flavour all the same.
Unfortunately, this level of quality simply isn’t consistently present enough on the album for me to give it a high rating. The instrumentation is pretty basic and chuggy, and it never really transcends the obvious hook. As a result, you have bland snooze-fest filler like ‘О Шипка’ and the title track ‘Българският Бог’ occupying space on the album which might have been better used with more inspired, rousing tracks like ‘Хайдути’. ‘Българският Бог’ rather takes things a bit too far, not in the direction of heavy metal, but with its overblown, comical melody, which sounds suspiciously like it was begging Dschinghis Khan to resurrect himself from the grave and make an offensively orientalist disco cover of it.
But when it comes to the songs on the latter half of the album – for the love of your Bulgarian God, Епизод, slap in a fucking guitar solo somewhere! And I mean a real fucking guitar solo, not the anemic twenty-second instrumental bridge thingy you had on ‘О Шипка’! And always with the damnable ballads! A full quarter of this album is made up of ballads: namely, ‘Последен Марш’ and the keyboard-drenched Elton John B-side ‘Моите Песни’. They aren’t bad songs, really, but they might be tolerable if they were counterbalanced with something approaching heavy metal, but as it turns out, the entire latter half of the album is pretty much skipworthy.
As with Народът на Дуло, the lyrical themes manage to hold some interest, since they are primarily literary and patriotic, drawing upon the poems of Ivan Vazov (also a presence on Народът на Дуло) and the anti-Ottoman radical revolutionary Hristo Botyov. Again, I have no problem with this – though I might imagine that the authors in question might, if they were alive, ask in the defence of their own good names why their work was not set to better music. Ah, well, at least Ivan Vazov would be partially vindicated.
The production values and mixing on this album are problematic to say the least. More often than not it sounds like the drum is warring with everything else for attention, and the guitars and bass (partly due to the mixing, and partly due to the crudeness of the song structures) are subdued nearly to the point of irrelevance. This album is an interesting vantage point into Епизод’s evolution as a band, but musically it doesn’t really hold a candle either to their earlier work (like Молете Се) or their later work. ‘Хайдути’ is worthwhile – absolutely give it a listen; also consider ‘Паисий’. But I can’t really recommend the rest of the album.
11 / 20