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This is one of those albums that I come back to again and again, and it is difficult to provide a logical argument describing exactly what the elements are which set this album apart from so many other forest-inspired black metal albums. This is the challenge that review writing presents. Firstly, I should bring to your attention the fact that this album is a grower. It is unlikely to make a significant impact on first listen. Perhaps the elements such as owl hoots and storm noises will make certain aspects stand out as memorable, but the riffs themselves are likely to seem non-descript. This is not helped by the thin, non-aggressive guitar sound. In many ways the riffing style resembles that of Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger”: simplistic, stripped down to black metal’s barest form, at times playing a single elongated note, before moving up or down to repeat for the next note. The difference is that on “Transilvanian Hunger”, the guitar sound is abrasive and scathing, whereas “Fran Marder” has a warm, almost rockish guitar sound, which some may say is inappropriate. The songwriting is a bit more complex here also.
The vocals on this album stand out as a crucial ingredient in the forest black metal concept. Shamaatae sounds like a troll (whatever trolls sound like). This is not typical black metal screaming or rasping. He has a throaty vocal style, where he enunciates every word clearly, in ancient Swedish of course. If I could understand this language, I would have no problem understanding all of the lyrics. The lyrics are delivered in a way that sounds poignant and poetic, with emphasis given to “hard” consonants, and rolling of the ‘r’s. This is a particularly appropriate and aesthetically pleasing language for the genre. The vocals have an echo effect, so that every syllable is repeated in the background twice, becoming quieter on each repetition. Of course while a previous word is still echoing, the next word is already beginning. It’s like being in a forest at night surrounded by trolls. They’re everywhere and making disparaging comments behind my back. Headphones are strongly recommended for this album to get that true forest atmosphere. Either that or a very good quality surround sound system. The echoes are quiet and allow the listener to focus on what is being played currently, and do not distract the listener.
Another strength of this album is its coherence as a single art form. It is certainly not a mere collection of songs. It is a concept. The songs tend to move seamlessly into each other, so at times you might not notice that the next song has begun. Having said this, the songs are significantly different from each other, but agreeable with the overall flow of the album. Shamaatae is very clever with his songwriting, and conveys an affinity with nature. An example of this is at the start of the title track where the rolling of thunder is heard. At the point where the listener might expect to hear rain falling, the guitars come in, and hit the perfect note to simulate rainfall. The riffs that follow could almost be used as the definition of the word “epic”, despite their simplicity, and the fact that the song isn’t very long. Each guitar note seems to “hit the spot” for me. Each riff is simplistic but absolutely infectious. Shamaatae knows exactly how long to pursue with each riff before making the song progress. Often the riffs plod along in such a way as to conjure images of a troll trudging through a forest.
Arckanum has produced a special album, which could be seen as a landmark in nature-inspired black metal. Many bands have attempted this style since, but simply do not possess the natural songwriting magic of Shamaatae. He should also be given credit for the tasteful integration of female vocals into parts of songs, giving them a pure and innocent feel (certainly not some lame gothic theme). Be warned that this album is unlikely to make an instant impact, but ultimately becomes a charming and rewarding listen over time.