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It’s not easy to write about the band that means something more to you than it just exists in the market... Haggard, which is this band, was founded in 1991 and started playing unoriginal and a little bit uninspired death metal. After releasing four demos and one single they managed to change their musicial style to something way sophisticated – then Haggard became one of the first classical/orchestral/symphonic metal in the world.
Their initial full lenght album, recorded in new style, was published in late 1997 and gave them huge popularity and many fans all around (especially in South America). Worth mentioning is the fact, that sixteen musicians took part in recording this masterpiece!
Well, let’s begin checking out the music. ‘The Day As Heaven Wept’ opens the album in an excellent way, with its soothing and calm orchestral intro, that quickly sets the uneasy mood of the whole record. Then the beautiful female vocal apperas, intertwined with male voices, that change range form clean to... growls! Yes, the Haggard frontman, Asis Nasseri, wisely uses his grunts to emphasize the atmosphere, a conflict between the Good and the Evil (and, of course, he represetns this second aspect); moreover, the second male (bass) vocalist, Florian Schnellinger, also fulfils his duty very well, enriching Haggard’s voices palette. Overall, this song is fantastic opener, which mix three completely different types of singing with orchestral and more metallic music, that sets up and doesn’t ruin the impression it has made on a listener.
The second track is ‘Origin Of A Crystal Soul’, which begins with mixture of flute, drums, guitar and keyborads (that always sends me chills down my spine) and the sporano of Karin Bodenmüller comes in (by the way, what a skillful and pleasant voice! One of the best in metal industry), alongside with Asis’ growls. You would never imagine, how ideal this usage of throat fits the medieval kind of music. In addition, this is the first track with lyrics partially sung in German (and believe me, even if you hate this language, you will be surprised how well it sounds!).
Since I mentioned the lyrics, they concern with the history of Europe in Middle-Ages and prophecies of Michel De Notredame, which is better known as Nostradamus. That’s interesting to read songs texts about something unprecedented before and I personally think it’s better than another tedious and sometimes idiotic lyrics about war, religion, Satan or love these times.
OK, go back to music. ‘Origin Of A Crystal Soul’ ends with one ingenious riff, that drifts to and fro along something like bells (I’m not sure what it exactly is) til the end. The next song is short, fully orchestral interlude called ‘Requiem in D-Minor’, with no lyrics nor metal influences – it sounds just so it was recorded about several hundreds years before! The musicians use here only traditional instruments, like oboe, violin, harp or clarinet. Now you may have the feeling that you had used the time machine and landed in medeival times – no other band can make this, period.
After this, the best track in here pops up! ‘In A Pale Moon’s Shadow’ destroys all the prevoius ‘pseudo-epic’ tracks you have heard in your whole life, that’s for sure. It’s more than nine and a half minute long and never becomes old or boring. The complexity of this song still terrifies me – during this 9 minutes you will witness orchestral, monumental parts, true metallic patterns, the usage of classical and contemporary instruments, three dimssimilar kinds of voices, the lyrics in three totally different languages and moody, melancholic, unmatched atmosphere. All of this in only one track! Fantastic piece of art, that should go down into metal... no, music history.
Having heard preceding masterpiece, it’s better to cool down for a couple of minutes. Haggard musicians also thought of it and they composed another classical, short track, known as ‘Cantus Firmus In A-Minor’, that gives a breathing space for all of the vocalists and band members who don’t play traditional instruments. Well done, but it’s not something particularly spectacular.
The next gem on this album is subsequent song, ‘De La Morte Noire’, in which Asis uses grunts very often (and I forgot to mention, that they are sung in a way, which makes them easily decipherable for all listeners (what a huge difference between Haggard and other death metal groups attempts now appears...), and his English is fantastic, for the first time I listened to this CD I thought he’s a native American or Englishman) and the overwhelming keyboard intro crushes your mind! Again, the female vocalist did a great job here, follwed by Asis’ deep and angry growls and somewhat more metal tunes. During this one, there’s another keyboard solo and many calm, moody passages between more metallic and classical parts. Awesome song, that’s going to be in your mind for many months.
Another shining pearl on the CD is ‘Lost (Robin’s Song)’, a track that is again very atmospheric with much more sad lyrics than all the previous songs. This one is wholly sung by bass vocalist, Florian Schnellinger, and it is a big advantage – he’s singing emotionally, without exaggerating as many vocalists do – everything fits ideally, the musical side is acoustic, melancholic, chilled, good-tempered and simply breathtaking.
The last track (too bad that this is the last) is a short song inspired by a folklore tune (don’t know how is it called, maybe it comes from Germany or neighbouring country) – ‘A Midnight Gathering’, that consists of awesome drum solo pattern, that flows throughout whole duration of this track. Vocals in here changed into chanting, you can almost fell that you sit around the fireplace in the forest, a brilliant one!
To conclude, I have to say, that this is one of my all time favourite albmus. It is epic, it’s splendid, it’s huge and intensive, it’s breathtaking... I can name much more epithets about this MASTERPIECE. Haggard then released other great concept albums, like ‘Awaking The Centuries’ and ‘Epuur Si Muove’, but ‘And Thou Shalt Trust... The Seer’ is for me the best of the three Haggard’s classical/orchestral/medeival metal gems. You won’t get any better than this record in genre that Haggard actually created. The musicianship and songwriting is top-notch, everything is deliberated and extremely well done, the production is faultless... To be honest, this album has NO disadvantages. You have to hear it, unless you’ll miss one of the most improtant (and also one of the most overlooked and underrated) metal recording ever.
Recommended by all means!
Rating: 10/10 (that means 100/100% of course).
Haggard is unique, but it both starts and ends there. They did become quite good with time, but not at the point that they released And Thou Shalt Trust... The Seer. With lots of people, and lots of classical baroque instruments they tried to tackle both the common neo-classical music and mainstream metal (that is one bassist, one drummer constantly executing double-bass orgies, one guitarist doing sub-par riffs, average leads and not quite memorable solos at the end of each songs, and last, but not least a vocalist who seems to have misplaced any former embryo of a talent to sing and thus screams himself hoarse in order to spread his message which normally closes in on saying he's a murderer, loving the smell of fresh blood so beware...). May I, in confidence, tell you that Haggard's result is not any other way than one would suspect when a band of many members and big pretensions tries to avoid two of their three sources of inspiration?
Human brains are pattern-seeking devices. Mine does that too, rather feverishly at the moment. This is what I've come up with. Except for the instrumentals, which are actually pure orchestrals, never filthed by guitars or anything like it, except for them, every song follows the same pattern. Calm intro, be it flute, piano, drum, whatever, marks the start. This is in no way a new behavior, and I still dislike the flute intros - Rhapsody have had enough of them already.
Next the song, all the way to the end, is playing a minute of the baroque part, then a minute of the "metal" part, which really isn't that metal. It's the same stuff, just hitting the drums harder and a distorted guitar. Complicated, guys. The baroque parts are actually the more intricate ones, something that gives the impression that the metal was just added so that Haggard would become the Band mixing metal and more classical stuff. At least some members must've thought that way, because Awaking the Centuries incorporates both genres very well. Now, these classical bits and pieces are often longer in duration than said metal parts. They tend to start with a repetition of the intro and after a while strings, horns and clarinets come along. The little intro melody is repeated a few more times, rather neatly in fact. This happens especially with the piano intros, which is a good thing, as I happened to like them the most. It should also be said that A Midnight Gathering totally lacks its metal parts.
I really can't say if it's a good or a bad thing. Admittedly, the song as it is now sucks, but so does Haggard's metal parts on this album tend to do as well. In fact I judge them to be much worse than the mainstream metal they try to steer clear of. The guitars, except for the acoustic ones, shouldn't have received any OK stamp. I could start by calling them uninspired, bad and boring, but they are also pretty much the same. I really don't think the same distortion and riffage should be applied in all the songs, even if it's only in one-minute chunks.
What I'd like to be done about Asis Nasseri and his vocals doesn't suit for print. His ordinary vocals do in deed suck like a vacuum cleaner. There's no range, which makes him sound as hoarse, inspired and functioning as your next-door oil sheik after the two-week holiday in his homeland that he found out that it may not have been such a smart idea to remove all oasises in favor of oil plants (except for the LP in his backpack). The grunts are at least better, but I don't see the slightest reason to switch, within the same verse between perfectly beautiful choir vocals and Nasseri's nasal bull sounds. In short, the choir - or the sopranos and the bass guys do all sound a lot better than him.
I can't really complain at the drummer though, and I must compliment the bassist. It's wonderful to hear the bass guitar at the same time as the violin pack plays. In Origin of a Crystal Soul there are sections that sound suspiciously like Rhapsody keyboard parts. This stunned me at first and seemed very odd? Why would a band like Haggard, with so many instruments (hey, even a crumhorn) care for a keyboard? I still don't know, but after checking I can confirm that there is one. Mister Hans Wolf is his name, and though I liked his piano, withstood the cembalo, I can't help thinking the keyboard was superfluous.
What more is there to be said? You'd expect a dynamic music seeing they mix such different genres. Admittedly, there are some very neat tempo switches but the music gets stuck in a pattern making it far more static than your average metal or classical album/suit. The opinion I formed when I first heard this album was that there are bands far better at mixing classical music and hardrock or metal. I.e. Therion. I still think so, but Haggard have turned out to make far better albums themselves.
Haggard would, if all their albums sounded like this first one be one of the most overrated humbugs in history, ranking among the IT and tulip crashes. Their later albums provided some justification though. Still, this album is nothing but a useless lump of plastic to me.
Ever get bored of the standard 4 or 5 piece line-ups? No? Then, this isn't your band.
Haggard is arguably the best band in the makeshift, broad and very vague "symphonic metal" genre. They know their craft well. This album, being their first official release, will introduce you to their blend of classical and metal that is extraordinary and doesn't suffer from any hinderances in trying to melt the two styles together. A word of warning: It is more likely for each song to NOT be centered around the guitar. Instead, the guitar is usually used as another instrument in the song creation process. Same goes for the raspy growls that are likely to be heard on most of the non-instrumental tracks.
Here are some specifics. The metal parts that are sporadically, yet very deliberately placed throughout the eight tracks make up about 40% of this album. Not being very well versed in classical music, I will try to drop some composer names that come to mind when listening to Haggard. Hopefully, I won't make an ass out of myself. Mozart. I definitely hear Mozart. The piano parts are very reminiscent of his Piano Sonatas. I also hear Brahms, Lizt and slight Vivaldi influences on the string musicians. The influences shouldn't be very surprising. I wish I knew more about classical music to give a better description. Maybe someone else will take that task upon himself.
Overall, there is a romantic aura to this album. Calling it Gothic wouldn't stray too far from the truth. The soprano vocals are very lovely and are usually pretty standard for a Gothic metal outfit (Tristania, ToT, Sins of thy Beloved). The usual contrast between growls and angelic female vocals works very well. Think that's enough? How about a choir? A Russian choir? You'll have to check out Haggard's second album Awakening The Centuries for that treat.
Unlike Haggard's Swedish predecessors Therion, the German band uses the choir in a more sparing and appropriate manner. Also, they don't piss me off as Therion's choir does sometimes. No overwhelming male vocals and general feeling of discontinuity. Near perfection.
This album contains seven tracks of pure brilliance (2 of them purely instrumental) and should be heard by everyone even considering checking out a "symphonic" or Gothic band. The outro track (track 8) is a folky tune straight from the Renaissance. The thing that is amazing about this band, is that they managed to match this debut with their second release: Awakening the Centuries. I won't bother to preview it here.
If you don't mind outside influences in your precious metals, then this album is a mandatory addition to your collection! Plebian!
Similar Bands: Therion (not at all aurally, but rather stylistically).