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This one is a doozy. I met this band back in 2011 and fell in love with them. Melodic death metal featuring a full fledged orchestra? Count me in! I was in a desperate search for symphonic metal that was sound. Bands like Nightwish and Turisas are an example of some of the many generic bands that plagued the genre. So here I am, in 2014, ready to say that my love for this album is slowly fading.
The band consists of hundreds of thousands of people, but at the core, stands the real metal band: the drummer, the guitarist, the bass player, and of course, the mastermind behind it all, Nasseri, whom both sings and play the guitar. The other five hundred people are the orchestra, who conjointly perform alongside the band. This combination gives us this symphonic metal band. I use that term loosely because, although the metal part is very clear; it isn’t all that much. The guitars sound similar to those found in palm muted breakdowns one see in an Emmure song. In this case, of course, they aren’t performing a breakdown, but I can’t even say they are performing a song. You see; there isn’t much creativity or diversity when it comes to the metal portion of the songs. The drums are always in a basic double-bass, hi-hats and little to no variation. The guitars are shoved into the background because of their odd tuning. Is there a bassist in this band? I can’t hear him, even with my studio headphones. It seems that this is, in fact, not symphonic metal, but a symphony with metal influences.
With this last paragraph, one might think that the metal part sucks, but it does not. There are the vocals, which are amazing. Nasseri’s voice is threatening, deep, and rough as any guttural should be, and mix well with the melodeath sound, which in turn, mix well with the orchestral bits. That is the key word: mix. The production is this album is astounding; every instrument is fairly audible (with the exception of the bass and sometimes the guitar), and it feels as if the band played alongside the orchestra.
Oh, the orchestra; Never have I seen (or in this case, listened) to something so beautiful in my life. Every second it consumes playing is memorable. They are what helps this band come alive. If it weren’t for those cellos, for that sweet ass piano (seriously, Of a Might Divine and The Observer have beautiful piano parts), and for that soprano, that tenor, this couldn’t work. Talking about the vocals, remembered me: there is also two more vocalists, a male tenor and a female soprano. They are superb. Every second they are singing; they steal all the attention to them.
How does it all add up? Does bad metal, plus good orchestra, equals a good album? In a way, yeah, it does. Just like I wrote, the guitars are always shoved in the background, and the orchestra are in the foreground. So it means that the good part is always there, and the bad part is all the way into the last row, barely audible, extremely forgettable. Funny thing, though, because there is a guitar solo at the end of Per Aspera Ad Astra, and I didn’t even notice until 2 years later since I first heard the song. Probably because the symphonic part perplexed me to the point that I forgot that there was a guitarrist there.
I’ll do the math for you: Good vocals + bad metal + amazing orchestra + short album (oh I forgot, this album is short. The songs are long, but they are few) = 85%.
Originally written for my blog at: http://www.darkwaveunderneath.blogspot.com/
Back when I was getting into metal, albums like this one were good for easing in (although I was also in my “1600s period”, playing Imperialism II, reading The Baroque Cycle, studying the 30 Years War, and of course this), and nowadays, they’re good when you want to show someone the genre can be “intellectual” without having to rant about tonality and song structure on "Obscura" by Gorguts.
In fact, this is not a very metallic release – Haggard have kept an orchestral ensemble with them since the mid ’90s, and for a good part of the album, they do most of the work. Even during the more overtly metal parts, the core group plays in a fairly simple matter. The guitars generally play simple tremolo riffs, doing little more than providing harmonic reinforcement, and doesn’t play unaided for very long. Asis Nasseri has a passable growl, but it lacks depth considering how throaty it sounds. To their credit, the drummer does a good job, keeping the drumming fairly varied, although generally resorting to a thrashy style with lots of double bass. Still, it’s up to the orchestra to run the show, and (apparently) steal it, too.
It should be mentioned that this is a concept album about Galileo, his life, his troubles, his emotions, and such. A nice guy, discovered lots of scientific stuff. Shame about the scandal with the pope and the imprizzlement. The album begins with All’inizio e La Morte, with lyrics in German and Latin and the occasional English. The first few minutes or so suggest the experience of listening to an opera. It’s a good beginning, shows off the arrangement and composition abilities of the band. The metal comes in at the middle – it’s played in a simple matter, but it proves that the best moments of this album are when the orchestra and core band are playing together. The music we get is essentially Baroque symphonic death-doom with some gothic overtones... quite the mouthful. The tempo varies a lot, going from very slow, to moderately fast (never balls out, although it might be interesting to see the group do that), but often remains at a middling pace. The orchestra is very, very prominent – usually the band plays with it, although there are sections where either the band or the orchestra plays alone. It also contains a substantial selection of vocals - a choir, a good operatic soprano, a tenor - even Nasseri performs some clean vocals. The band even incorporates the stereotypical “beauty and the beast” aesthetic in the vocals – low, harsher voices accompany the soprano.
The main problem is that we have a serious case of underused potential. Mainly, the metal doesn't stack up to the classical music. It's not incompetence - just listen to the band’s first official release (the “Progressive” EP) – They have no orchestra to cover their asses, so they end up putting up a decent, if amateur performance. But here, while it often complements the orchestra, the metal is mostly very simplistic. The combination is admittedly difficult to pull off - many of the bands that do it (for instance, Therion) end up simplifying their music drastically.
Still, it could be much worse - Haggard only ends up simplifying their metal. Listen to the 2000s work of bands like Subway to Sally and In Extremo – it’s basically just heavy electronic dance music with folk instruments. I mean, those bands are generally good for what they are, but they shouldn’t really be counted as folk metal once they end up on the dance floor. Then again, only a complete maniac would try to dance to Haggard’s “Eppur Si Muove” – this is a listening album through and through. What lends the album its quality is the compositional work – you hear repeated motifs, and the lyrical content is tied together, but each song is strong enough to stand on its own. The compositions themselves are structured well enough to compete with classical music, with fairly traditional forms. Many songs use the sonata allegro form - they introduce their main themes, develop new themes in the middle, then tie them together as the revisit the original theme. Other subtle things contribute to this like the interplay of instruments. During the Baroque era of classical music, counterpoint and polyphony were essential to composition – they’re present here. Possibly the most obvious example of this is the intro of “The Observer” – a violin plays a line, a second violin starts a few notes later, creating a simple round, then a harpsichord comes in and plays another melody at the same, time, and a cello comes in playing yet another melody in it. Then they all play a quick unison, and return briefly to playing counterpoint. Then it starts over, with the metallic elements of the song coming in. And this is just in the first 20 seconds of the song. Welcome to workmanship - this is still a musically dense album that will keep your attention for a while - the orchestra could perform this entire album on their own and it would make a decent opera.
But I sure wish the band would pull their weight better – they probably could, in fact. If only they put that amount of effort into their parts on Eppur Si Muove as they did on the Progressive EP... damn slackers. At least they can do harmonic reinforcement. Not having listened to much of this band's discography, I couldn't tell you how well the band pulled off the fusion on other albums.
Still, if you're into Renaissance/Baroque era classical music, or enjoy other symphonic metal bands, this may very well become one of your favorite albums.
I first met Haggard with their “Awaking the centuries” and I was shocked by the fusion of classical instruments and contemporary instruments. This release, also of historical theme, was another way (for me) to enjoy this phenomenon. Some might think that it’s kind of the same thing as their previous work (such as “Awaking the centuries”), but if you pay real attention, you’ll see that they’re quite different, and I’ll try to demonstrate why:
1. About the lyrics
In “Awaking the centuries”, the lyrics tend to reflect only the historical situation of Nostradamus (such as the horror of the plague, the dramatic change of times from Middle Age to Renaissance) and grants very little space for the prophet’s possible feelings; mysticism and God is the center of these lyrics (as medieval cosmovision). In the other hand, “Eppur si muove” works in the other way, there’s a lot about Galilei’s feelings and thoughts (such as the joy of his discovery, the frustration of seeing himself in the hands of stupid people, the damage of fanatism and ignorance to human kind when they try to shut knowledge up) than about the historical time he’s living. So, the new center of all is the man, not God (just like in Renaissance philosophy). Besides, Haggard seems to give more importance to Galilei’s work (as a revolutionary of western science and philosophy) than Nostradamus’ (as a mere physician and extraordinary prophet).
2.1 About the (classical) music
Haggard, as a classical band, is very concerned about the authenticity of their music, so, that includes the actual dating. Well, if you check times, you’ll see that Nostradamus was born in 1503 and died in 1566, while Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 and died in 1642. Even when it’s Renaissance (and Baroque, in the case of the astronomer) for both of them, the difference, musically speaking, is quite profound. Both albums use pretty much the same instruments, yes, but the tribute to the prophet tends more towards a “still medievalish” style, not only because of some solos -which may be associated with the bards singing, but also due to a tendency of expressing just one idea, one way or one voice (this means that the score is very similar –if not the same- for all instruments, which just accompany the voices and nothing more), very characteristic of late Middle age. Now, the tribute to the astronomer is based on: the dialogue between instruments and voices, didactic intentions, more ornamented and complex scores for both instruments and voices and an ingenious alternative game between beauty and grotesque as aesthetic expressions equally valid.
2.2 About the (metal) music
For those who do not know Haggard, their style tends (more than death or simply symphonic) to black metal, I think, because of the riffs, the voice growlings and most of their topics. (As for this matter, black metal is well known for its dark subjects such as death, destruction, hate, solitude or the struggle against madness). In “Awaking the centuries”, to talk about the massive plague which razed Europe (and all its implications) using melodic grunting and riffs that make guitar stand up above all other instruments is more than enough for classify them as black “Eppur si muove”, on the other side, is (I admit it) more instrumental than metal (actually, classical instruments sound stronger than guitar or bass), but I don’t see it as a flaw or a betrayal to the genre (as some orthodox metal fans might think). Instead of that, it is another way of experiment the fusion of both styles (besides, since the theme is Renaissance, it couldn’t turn out other thing). After all, variety is the key to stay fresh and to get to more people; may be for extreme metal fans it could be really boring or lame, but for beginners or symphonic/melodic/historical metal fans could be an extraordinary display of power and beauty, of good music with meaningful lyrics.
3. About the atmosphere
Based on my previous arguments about the music, I conclude that the atmosphere created by these two albums is different. The environment recreated by “Awaking the centuries” is eminently dark, chaotic, like a middle point between sleeping and awaking, without actually being one of them (just like a period of transition, socially, politically, economically, etc., like the one lived by Nostradamus). In the other side, the atmosphere of “Eppur si muove” is brighter, more finely polished and clearer, with some obscure dots which represent the presence of passion (or ignorance) in times of the spring of reason.
As closure of this review, I just can say that a band as Haggard is really unique because of their respect for music (chronologically and aesthetically) and for their musical proposal. There are not many bands with the capacity of merging two types of music (apparently) so opposite with such remarkable accuracy. SOME bands do include orchestras in their work, but –the way I see it- merely as decoration, as a random ornament to achieve labels like “cult” or “refined” or simply “cooler-than-garage-bands” without a musical consciousness of the instruments that they’re picking or the scores they’re writing. Haggard’s style proves (unintentionally, I think) to non-metal people, specially conservative sectors of society, that metal is not a barbaric-pagan-diabolical type of music, on the contrary, is one of the few musical genres that may harmonize with almost all other genres. And, as well, invites metal fans to approach to classical music, presenting it as a way of cultural enrichment.
When I saw Galileo’s face on the cover and the tracklist (which mentions an Adagio amongst other classical stuff) I wondered whether these guys were simply the usual lame band who pretended a classical approach and then threw the keyboards all over the place or they were really something different. Hopefully I was wrong and I’m glad I got it because it’s a good album, although it does not quite reach the “awesome” status.
Haggard is one of those bands that you cannot classify. Having so many members and a vast array of classical instruments with little to almost null presence of guitars, you wonder whether this is metal or not. I feel it’s more like a classical music group who tries to put some metal moments in the mix.
The album features everything: pompous and precious classical songs, real instruments (I had enough of synths for the moment so it was a pleasure to hear the real stuff), strings and amazing percussion, a traditional song (Herr Mannelig, which by the way is the best version I’ve heard so far) with italian lyrics and operatic approach, like most of the album, and some decent metal moments. However, those metal moments are just too spread across the album and they sound too similar. Not really bad until you start analysing things song-by-song. That’s where you start finding the weak points.
For example, “Per Aspera Ad Astra” (featuring a tenor that should’ve been the main vocalist for the entire album) and “Of A Might Divine” sound way too similar and the same applies with “The Observer” (which contains one of the most memorable moments of the album) and “Eppur Si Mouve”. This is the quartet of songs with metal parts, being “All’inizio é La Morte” the remaining one, also a great opener (Profundis Clamavi!).
However, the biggest flaw of this album lies on the metal-driven songs, more specifically, the growls/grunts by Asis. The guy can sing decently but he ruins it most of the freaking time with his lame growling and horrible pronunciation. Sorry, but you don’t sound aggressive or heavy at all and the only thing you get is people laughing at the music. Sounds childish, corny, unfitting, and ridiculous! It’s like a douchebag yelling in the middle of an orchestral session. He has to stop such a clownish attitude and start singing properly because it detracts from the whole experience. Else, they better get rid of him. NOW. It's not good when you pretend to be serious and you get laughs.
You can understand what he says most of the time but the lyrics aren’t precisely brilliant and they could’ve been more polished as well since the booklet differs quite a lot compared to what you hear. Bad editing there.
Therion already proved in Secret of the Runes that you can make a whole album with a classical approach, a choir as the vocals and still remain metal with incredibly fucking good guitar work (Mushpelheim comes to my mind), solos and insane drumming. Here, it seems that the metal component is forced in the middle of the classical instruments. It simply doesn’t work properly. And that damn growling…
So, we have the three pretty instrumentals, Herr Mannelig and a short version of Her Mannelig that, once it’s done, features yet another classical piece. That makes six classical songs (two in one) and five metal songs. This serves to explain the metal component is either too watered down or completely destroyed by the amazing classical parts, which are indeed the best stuff here, especially when the classical vocalists kick in and Asis finally shuts up.
To sum it up, the album leaves a bitter taste whenever you hear some of the “metal” parts. It hurts, because this could’ve been so much better and probably an instant classic with a more competent singing and guitar work. It’s not bad; it just fails to fulfil the expectations given the ambitious approach they took.
Let’s hope their next album fixes these issues but, given Asis is one of the prominent band member I don’t think this will change much. I only hope he at least starts singing...
Haggard released this album in the same vein it's predecessor, following a storytelling sequence about famous literate idols. In Awaking the Centuries it was Nostradamus, in this album, we find Gaileo Galilei as a central figure. The production on this release is quite amazing, all the elements blend in with the excellent songwritting, by Asis Nasseri, the composer, lyricist, vocalist and leading guitar.
'All'inizio È la Morte': This album starts with a great piece with a rather classical beginning, with an imposing chorus and excellent musicianship in all instruments. As string instruments start, a raspy and dark voice starts, Asis Nasseri with a more spoken style in german onto around 2:30, where the female singer creates a striking appearance. Around the 3 minute mark, the metal part begins with imponence and growled vocals. The display on this opening song is excellent, the sliding of the choruses is astounding. The drumwork is excellent, along with the violin creating a beautiful atmosphere. The highlights on this song are the female vocal work, violin, cello.
'Menuetto in Fa-Minore': First all-around instrumental song, it doesnt carry necessarily a dark atmosphere [Haggard does not focus on dark style, more medieval altogether]. It's a composition full of exquisite violing and cello work, no percussion or extra elements.
'Per Aspera Ad Astra': An excellent song, with a powerful intro, with the female vocals blending into the mix and one by one instruments begin to appear, as a more melodic Nasseri growl kicks in, performing insightful lyrics. The highlight on this song is definitely the guitars. It follows some breakdowns in the rythm, to a more slow paced song. First incursion of male clean vocals, with some real vibration. Above the 3 minute line, a breakdown of instruments onto an instrumental passage, after such part, the metal potion starts to fade in. A very memorable piece, with an unmistakeable tune.
'Of a Might Divine': At first, this song might get you the feeling is another intro to a metal song, but in truth is 2 in one. It's a lot more moody than previous song, such touch is added by the piano work. Asis Nasser sings in a clear vocal style and creeps-on to some growling and straightforward symphonic metal. Small blasts of pummelling drumwork vs guitar continue onto the melody. Bass is overshadowed by cello, but all instruments work just fine, just magnificent. This is a much more balanced song, pretty much all aspects get their chance without making it saturated. The harp plays an excellent role that adds to a more medieval style. [The second best song in my opinion in this Eppur Si Muove.]
'Gavotta in Si-Minore': A brief instrumental track with excellent violin and flute work. A contrast to the following song.
'Herr Mannelig': German title, italian lyrics. It is a bit more shady than the rest of the songs, instrumentally, yet with diametrally opposite lyrics. . It has a beginning with the female vocalist doing some beautiful middle pitch and some beats on kettledrums. Then a metal incursion begins. This track features clean vocals only, there aren't any growled vocals on this one, i suppose that due to the much more dense atmosphere.
'The Observer': Another song featuring a mood-setting atmosphere. Untill 1:20, a more straightforward section of the song kicks. The drumwork gets an excellent prominence on this song, carrying almost the entire beat that fastens and slows down in a couple occassions. [A sure song to headbang to if you'd like or to enjoy it's accurate choice, as i would].
'Eppur Si Muove': The title track usually represent the most of the album and give a general idea [And hell, does this song do so]. This song contains a heavy epic atmosphere and without a doubt the best on this album. It starts with string work, a deep and dense string work, so untill a small flute 'solo' starts and hands it to the female vocalist performing middle-high pitched angelical vocals. After this, a piano section that follows the melody for about a minute untill an explosion of guitar and cello begin. Asis' vocals are excellent on this one [just read the lyrics and listen to this song, it's awe-inspiring!]. The vocals!, high pitched vocals performing the chorus and accompanying Nasseri's darker style. [excellent part:
'Did you ever touch the starlight ?
Dream for a thousand years?
Have you ever seen the beauty
Of a newborn century?'
One of the best choruses i've listened to. After another section of female vocals, a mirroring of the beginning, except that the piano melody is replaced by accoustic guitar and flute, followed by a raspier style of vocals by the frontman. It's a powerful song, with excellent passages, that truly shows excellent musicianship. You MUST listen to this song if you're into more than just aggression and truly appreciate inspirational music.
'Larghetto-Epilogo Adagio': The outro on this cd's formal conception is a piano piece accompanied by wind instruments. An excellent conclussion for an epic journey.
The last song is an extended version of Herr Mannelig, mislabeled as 'Short version' being about 2 minutes longer than the original version. After some silence, a piano piece starts and gives a strange turn of style, that yet is excellently orchestrated.
I thought that Haggard reached their apogee with Awaking the Centuries , I thought that Asis Nasseri was a mastermind…I was wrong , Awaking the Centuries is a great CD but Eppur Si Muove isn’t just that , it is a musical Masterpiece , and Asis Nasseri isn’t just a mastermind he is a Metal God.
No matter in which metal genre you are Haggard has something for you in this album, the mixture of metal with medieval music that this guys accomplished is perfect.
The first track , All ´inizio e La Morte , opens with a very powerful chorus followed by a 3 minutes beautiful intro which takes you directly to medieval times. Until the third minute the real metal part starts with the entrance of guitars , drums , bass and Asis´s grunts.
The second track , Menuetto In Fa-Minore, is one of Haggard’s short instrumental tracks . It is a 1.12 minute slow medieval part which perfectly takes you to the third track: Per Aspera Ad Astra. This is the CD’s heavier track which opens with fast violins and very strong guitars perfectly arranged with the soprano’s voice to give you Haggard’s most amazing sound.
Then in Of A Might Divine Haggard goes back to their old style where the metal parts and the medieval parts are very separated and in some parts where they come together they deliver a glorious sound.
Gavotta In Si-Minore is the second instrumental track , followed by one of the highlights of the album: Herr Mannelig. This is the first real medieval song that Haggard has played. It is a fantastic track with a gorgeous rhythm and beautiful sopranos and tenors.
Then in The Observer Asis mixes perfectly all the instruments to create a song with very melancholic piano moments and some quick and joyful moments.
The eighth track , Eppur Si Muove , is the most operatic song with magnificent and unforgettable moments. It is one of the best orchestrated metal songs ever.
The CD ends with Larghetto/ Epilogo Adagio the third instrumental track , the perfect closure for this magic metal experience.
Once more this album has a topic , this time is Galileo Galilei and the social and religious problems he had for supporting his theory.
So this is the CD you must buy , it is a magical metal creation you’ll never forget and you’ll never get bored of it, no matter what you listen you’ll love it, it has everything from fast and heavy tracks to slow and melancholic , from the most simple piano moments to the most complex operatic ones.
This is one of the best productions ever , one of the best medieval sounds ever , one of the most magnificent metal creations , this is Haggard’s Masterpiece.
A new Haggard album, a new historical figure: Galilei, new language: Italian.
Not sure If they used it much before, but this album is full of italian, apart from english, german and latin. There is even a spoken part in italian in the song "Eppur si muove" that sounds like said by the Godfather himself.
The album sounds good... Its a little bit too much short, just as the previous albums, 10 songs, 2 versions of the same song, 3 calm instrumentals, leaves room for 5 real songs, with some metal in it. Similar rate of metal/classical parts than previous albums. Maybe it lacks a stronger track like "Awaking the Centuries".
"Herr Manelig" stands out, its a traditional song, sung in Italian by a female beautiful voice. I can't think of a "Best" song out of the 5 songs with metal in it, they are all very similar, nice Haggard songs, and each of them has its best moments.
My complaint with this album is that is extremely similar to the previous ones. You can sense this when you hear a melody that starts identical to one of the songs of previous albums, and then makes an obvious turn as to not be the exact same melody.
Comparing, I think this album is slightly below both previous albums. If you like Haggard, this is for you. Its not for every one, specially not metalheads... Its for people that like particular good music. Again, Haggar do something pretty unique and they deserve high respect, for it is really good music.