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While the Spanish metal scene has seen a rise in extreme metal in terms of black and death metal, there are also bands like Hordak, playing their music in the veins of Scandinavian black/folk metal bands, dubbing their style as "Celtiberian pagan metal". Five years since the band's previous, critically acclaimed album, the band releases their brand new effort in the form of Under the Sign of the Wilderness. The heroic-themed album artwork instantly caught my attention, being one who particularly loves epic album artworks, and this has also placed high expectations on the music as well, and whether it is able to match the standards of the album artwork is left to be heard.
The folk element in the band's music is immediately heard right from the start, with the opening acoustic guitar riffs and the subsequent sounds of flutes giving a calming and charming soundscape, and while this could come across as slightly cheesy for the jaded folk metal listener, Hordak manages to do this well and sets the mood and foundation for the rest of the album to build upon. And with the sound of horses in the background, the album begins proper with 722 and one is immediately reminded of such Scandinavian bands as Finsterforst and Equilibrium, with that foggy atmosphere that the fuzzy guitar tone evokes in the music.
However, unlike the aforementioned bands, Hordak has a more black metal edge to their music, especially in the vocal delivery of Autumn, a black metal shriek sounding like a more tortured version of Shagrath at his prime and this helps to increase the enjoyment of the music for a black metal fan like me. Aside from that, there are also numerous other influences that were spotted that make Under the Sign of the Wilderness such an enjoyable one. For example, there are moments when it almost sounds like a black metal version of Amon Amarth with the heroic themes and viking metal-styled songwriting and playing of the band, like the alternating between palm-muted, chugging and trem-picked riffs on Towards the Cold Eternity. Also, songs like Spreading the Firewings have an almost folk/power metal feel to the riffing and the energy that is seeping out. Despite that, it is not all flowery as the band also includes darker moments as well, such as the sudden drop in the mood towards the end of Monoliths.
Throughout the album the songs are masterfully crafted, with each of the songs containing huge melodic hooks that grab the listener's attention, getting him to headbang along to the music. Guitarists Winter and Autumn not only does this through the melodic riffs that are unleashed but also in their lead guitar works, though for the most part it seems that the focus of the band are on the rhythmic work of the musicians. The lead work, while nothing stellar, are also extremely melodic, and it is the feel that the guitarists have put into their lead work that is particularly noteworthy. The bass of Mansilla is also extremely audible throughout the album and this certainly contributes to creating a full sound for the music on the album.
It has been a long while since a folk-influence extreme metal album has managed to capture my attention this well, and Hordak, with Under the Sign of the Wilderness is certainly an album that succeeds in this aspect, at the same time reigniting my interest in black/folk metal once more. Of course, the usual things that make a folk metal album such as the usage of acoustic guitars along with electric guitars are present, but what Hordak has done here is the display of their ability to fuse all the different aspects together to bring about a coherent album, yet managing to avoid sounding overly cheesy.