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I'm still relatively naive when it comes to what celtic folk metal is supposed to correctly sound like, in that during my younger days I thought these two seemingly disparate genres compliment each other like a pig rotisserie at a bar mitzvah, but Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge" made me think twice, and this album really calls my earlier beliefs into question. Autumntales is a pull-no-punches folk-fest with heavy guitars and some double bass pedal action gelling with the jaunty rhythms and traditional instruments in a screwed-up yet strangely appealing way. It's like those films taking place in a medieval setting in which Anglo-Saxon maidens are masters of kung-fu and dashing knights kick ass on makeshift skateboards. In other words, it's absolute junk food for the senses, ridiculous as hell but enjoyable fluff if the performances don't completely suck and production isn't too cheap. Shit, Autumntales would most likely make for a more than adequate soundtrack for that sort of dodgy revisionism.
This album stands out from much of the other folksy crap I've endured in that it fully embraces the melodiousness of traditional music, with the metal aspects tacked on almost as an afterthought. And I state 'almost' simply because the drummer seems to be the one that decides just how 'metallic' each song resonates. Yes, most of these tunes wield a substantial amount of distorted guitar playing, but it acts nearly exclusively as a rhythm instrument, augmenting the bass guitar and little else. The drumming, on the other hand, is forced to balance between the frolicking melodies and the heavier sections, and the guy behind the kit does a favorable job in pulling it off.
A decent portion of these numbers instrumentally would lend themselves as apt drinking anthems if the lyrics actually matched the general ambiance of the music, but the topics veer far from the sort of reverie that invites that sort of atmosphere. I can picture some of the songs providing a fitting backdrop for dancing around a bonfire with pointy-eared chicks, but for the most part, the celebratory vibe is shrouded with feminine themes to the point in which I feel as if this platter wasn't meant for my gender whatsoever. Listening to this release at certain points is akin to checking out some fantasy-romance novel, seeking out those pages littered with terms like "heaving bosoms", "throbbing manhood" and "golden sheath", yet actually reading the rest of the book as well. This is almost as 'girly-metal' as it gets, but I can't deny the catchiness of it and its commitment to the genre, as opposed to tossing in a couple of commercial pop-metal confections to boost sales. I should just hand over what's left of my 'cool points' now, since my favorite tracks regarding this release are named "Enchanted Moonlight" and, I shit you not, "Fairyland". Fuck it, they're bouncy as hell and capture that joyous flighty aura while retaining a punch with meaty choruses and reasonable amounts of heaviness. Much of the rest of this effort carries that same vibe, although the pure folk-ballad title track offers a bit of relaxation time.
The decidedly lower-budget yet tolerable production works to the album's advantage, presenting an organic "let's hang out with nature" flavor without sounding either demo-quality or too slick. Talent-wise, there's no aces showboating their skills, but, as a whole, the instrumentation is decent, with the melodies provided by the fiddles, cellos and vocals, along with some keyboards that add a bit of that more conventional symphonic flair to certain tracks while not overriding the folk elements.
Vocally, Jessica carries the harmonies well enough, never over-extending her range and possessing a sweet tone. Not an upper-tier performer, but considering the busy "days of yore" melodies to deal with, she handles that shit pretty well. Getting back to the 'girly metal' concept, the rare male accompanying vocals that do pop up are far from the usual 'beast' growls or even the current trend of clenched-fist bravado wails. Instead, they come across as borderline sensitive, like that supportive guy-pal offering a shoulder to cry on after the maiden discovers that her hero has just been munched by a dragon. Noted former Elis member Sabine Dünser chimes in during "My Favorite Dream", offering a higher range that harmonizes well with Jessica. My version of this release also includes a stripped down acoustic rendition of this tune featuring Sabine's pipes exclusively, I'm guessing as a tribute to her after her unfortunate passing.
This is definitely not something I listen to very often, mainly because much of it is too damn silly for its own good, but I must admit that there's a buoyancy to this particular release that raises it above whit little competition I've heard, including their own later work. I may not "surrender in dance" as the song behests, but I might shake a leg or something, especially if pointy-eared elfin babes are involved.