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Great first offering - 75%

hannahcolin, January 30th, 2013

Fayetteville, New York's Arthurian Shield are purveyors of the death/black metal melding that seems quite prevalent recently, and their self-titled and self-released debut suggests that they have definitely got what it takes to take their place in the ranks. Sole member Uther's talent for song writing and expertly blending medieval touches into the general heavy sound of his tracks is evident in this release, and whilst it may not be showcased to its best potential, it is certainly there to be heard. As someone who is currently applying for PhDs based on Medieval Arthurian literature, I was very intrigued to find out whether or not the subject matter was handled successfully, and I was mostly pleasantly surprised.

First track 'Arthurian Shield' is a strong opener, and although (like the rest of the album) it is plagued with some issues with the sound quality, in general the production on the track is not bad. Regarding the track itself, there are some good death vocals present here and the medieval inspired guitar licks throughout the song are a nice touch. The overall theme of the band/album and the general sound is continued in next track 'Merlin', which has a steady and rhythmic opening and creates an almost trance-like and ritualistic feel to the track, which is definitely appropriate for the subject matter. Partway through the song, the vocals seem to disappear into the mix a little and become another instrument; whether or not this was intentional (and I suspect that it wasn't) it is actually very effective and creates a wall of sound that helps the song to feel stompy without any sense of boredom. My personal favourite track 'Avalon Arise' has a much cleaner and more melodic start than the previous two, complete with stock wind sounds and an almost magical quality to the melody. This is supported by the melodic chants that are reminiscent of Gregorian chanting and create an overall effective and atmospheric feel to the track as a whole, that effortlessly encompasses the character of the mystical and mysterious Isle of Avalon incredibly well.

Following track 'Battle of Camlann', dealing with the final battle of King Arthur, should have been a ferocious and epic song, but unfortunately it doesn't quite live up to expectations. There are blast beats galore throughout the track, but where this song fails comes mostly down to the production quality, which is a shame. The complexity of the guitar licks is lost in the mix, which means that the song falls a little flat after starting so ferociously. Penultimate track 'Death of Uthyr Pendragon' starts well (strong starts are a continuing motif of this album!) and explodes into heaviness; after 'Battle of Camlann' one finds oneself hoping that it can keep the energy up. Luckily, this track does succeed in staying energised, and the onslaught is successfully broken up every now and again through a recurring clean guitar line. This allows the listener to catch their metaphorical breath! Album finisher 'Guiniviere' is something of a surprise, being a beautiful, soft medieval love song with wholly clean instrumentation and vocals. Uther does not possess the strongest clean singing voice, but the emotion he portrays throughout the track more than makes up for this- and the vocals get much more confident as the track progresses. 'Guiniviere' is a lovely way to bring the album to a close and again proves Uther's skill as a songwriter.

Overall, the thing that Arthurian Shield suffers from the most is the production quality, but this is to be expected from a self-released offering. Every now and again the music suffers from a little bit of mis-timing, but it's generally impressive considering that it was recorded solely by Uther, excepting the bass parts. There is also a sizeable gap in between each track, which results in a fairly awkward silence that could detract from the quality of the songs on offer, but I am still more than satisfied with the album Uther has given us. Arthurian Shield have a lot of promise here, and they faithfully reproduce their subject matter without falling into the realm of cheese. I look forward to hearing their next selection, and wish Uther luck in finding the right people to complete his lineup.

Hannah, ValkyrianMusic.com