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Suidakra is a relatively unknown German band, even despite the fact that they have recorded a sufficient amount of albums by this day. However, this holds nothing back from an actual quality of their work. On Emprise to Avalon Arcadius & co continued to break away from melodic death/black metal and transformed into a full-blown melodic death metal band with obvious folk metal influences. The result is astonishing and surpasses great The Arcanum in every way possible.
The sound is very reminiscent of some Swedish forefathers of this genre in that it fuses power metal-styled upbeat feeling and melody with more extreme metal approach. And Suidakra handle their job very well, coming up with a material that is both heavy and melodic at the same time, something that many melodic death metal bands fail to achieve. The main thing that makes Suidakra such a great band is riffing for it is absolutely delightful. I guarantee that you barely will find any other band of this genre, putting out so many great guitar melodies and harmonized parts during one song! They are completely epic and folk or, dare I say, "Celtic" sounding, and there is no single pointless guitar moment here. In addition, these guys tastefully employ acoustic guitar and sporadic synths, which really enhance an overall medieval atmosphere (since the album is entirely dedicated to The Arthurian myths) and strongly remind of something from Blind Guardian's repertoire. Vocals are a nice death metal roar, and also some clean singing is present, which is far from being perfect and still fits very well, intensifying folk metal mood.
Speaking of the album's highlights, I simply can't miss out an opening tune "Darkane Times". If you want to get this band's whole conception, you should just go with this song and witness its undeniable mightiness. That delicious electric guitar melody in the beginning is what this band is all about.
As for the drawbacks.. It is rather short in length. Also, an acoustic number "And the Giants Dance" is a bit overlong. In conclusion, this is a really cool slab of folk-influenced melodeath. Enter the realm of Avalon!
There is a murky period in British history between the withdraw of the Roman Empire and the eventual reign of the Saxons, a time where historical accounts exist, but are often painted over with a grand mythos of heroic deeds and mystical events. This was a ripe period for the legend that became Merlin and King Arthur, and such subjects themselves are fair game for any ambitious metal band with a desire to go beyond the mundane topics of popular music. But Suidakra has taken an even more ambitious route than the typical paraphrase of the medieval fantasy of these characters, instead focusing on the actual historical types depicted in Taliesin’s poetry with their auspicious and oddly little discussed 5th album “Emprise To Avalon”.
Thus far, this German outfit with an obvious fetish for Celtic lore has been on a steady uptrend from humble, melodic black metal origins somewhat derivative of the prime movers in the 2nd wave, to an original niche within the emergent folk craze of the late 90s and early 2000s. But this album takes the existing character established on “Lays From Afar” and “The Arcanum” and distills them further still, putting a heavy emphasis on bouncy, memorable folk tunes, to the point that the bard inspired lyrics are accompanied by a company of professional folk dancers in medieval attire. Comparisons have sometimes been thrown to a couple key players in the melodeath scene (such as Children Of Bodom and In Flames), but the generally mid-tempo character of the music and the simpler riff set points to something closer to what Bathory was playing around with during the since unfinished “Nordland” series.
The same epic, yet intricate formula that can be traced back to Manowar just oozes from every single musical passage. For instance, the simplistic, percussive intro that kicks off “Darkane Times” isn’t that far of a stretch from the solid, bare bones simplicity that typified “Sign Of The Hammer”, including the thick though fairly humble bass presence. Naturally the dueling death barks and tuneful folk choruses are more a convention of later practices that neither Manowar or Bathory really bothered with even when the 2000s rolled in, and the occasional blast beats and melodic tremolo riffs marched out on “Pendragon’s Fall” and “Still The Pipes Are Calling” were also not really in line with the more archaic, 80s heavy metal paradigm that said founding fathers of this style were adherents too. But by the same token, the strong influence of older metal trappings typical to the heyday of big hair is very much on display in Suidakra’s approach, alongside the subtle nods to the early 90s Gothenburg and Norwegian scenes.
Along with “The Arcanum”, this is a pretty good place to start with for those looking to discover the distinctive world that Suidakra lives in, one that seems to have a difficult time catching on in comparison to several of their competitors. On the upside, it seems that the lack of rabid fanfare that typifies Ensiferum and Elvenking has inspired more of a blue collar work ethic in Arkadius and company, as their studio output has been about as consistent and grueling as Black Sabbath’s from 1970 to 1995. There was an obvious mystique to the era of Celtic kings that coexisted with the triumphs of Rome, and those who revel in such things will find a welcoming campfire and minstrel here to set the soundtrack.
This is by quite a margin the most impressive Suidakra release. The uneven production and lack of identity present on The Arcanum is done away with in short order. Conversely, Emprise to Avalon also trumps it successor and nearest competition in quality, Signs for the Fallen; which had more of a generic melodic death disposition at the cost of some of the memorability.
While Emprise to Avalon touches many of the same bases, the riffs are just on a whole other echelon of quality. As per the band's Celtic and Folk leanings, the riffs and leads are very catchy and joyous, but this doesn't become embarrassing or "flowery". Suidakra are unique in this respect, as they are able to maintain the extremity of the whole ordeal by utilizing just enough restraint. Imagine the main riff of the title track of Running Wild's Black Hand Inn replicated and modified a zillion different ways, and you have the foundation of Emprise to Avalon's six-string assault. The album is also pockmarked by a bevy of acoustic and atmospheric interludes, the most enterprising of which is "And the Giants Dance...". My personal favorite is "The Spoils of Annwn", which really gives the keyboards a chance to take over for a moment. Speaking of keyboards, Arkadius does make impressive use of them, albeit from a more atmospheric standpoint.
The vocal approach is two dimensional, with the now-departed Marcel Schoenen contributing his trademark cleans alongside Arkadius' blackened roar. Both are functional enough, although Schoenen's contributions give the album a great counterpoint to the harsh barking, which would grow old on their own. Marcel has a great voice, and replacing him with the more metalcore-oriented Matthias Kupka on Command to Charge was that album's most fatal flaw. Arkadius has a rather unique harsh inflection, almost a merger of both black and death vocal styles. His screams are loud and exhaled, similar to Skyfire's current vocalist.
Longtime percussionist Lars Wehner has his moments, with some creative war-drum like sections and fills. Lots of double-bass is the main order of the day here, but is hardly awe-inspiring. He is an okay drummer, but really slays live. Arkadius recorded bass for Emprise to Avalon, and his performance boasts a more natural tone than the more clangy, upfront timbre present on Suidakra's later albums. The production isn't necessarily anything to write home about. Leads have plenty of staying power, but the rhythm section lacks low end, which doesn't gel that well with the clicky, triggered drums. In contrast, the vocals are mixed exceptionally, with the most impressive moments coming when both vocalists are performing simultaneously.
Cutting out the acoustic tracks and interludes, there are really only six actual full metal songs here; one of which is a re-arrangement from the band's debut album: "Still the Pipes Are Calling". Nearly all of these tracks are exceptional from beginning to end, save for maybe "The Quest". Opener "Darkane Times" and "The Highking" contain the best of the riffs and the most rewarding clean vocal sections. Check those ones out first for an idea of what Emprise to Avalon is all about. This album is one hell of a ride, don't miss out!
Suidakra are prominent members of the "14th century revival" movement in metal these days. Medieval folk + traditional metal = renaissance festival on acid. That said, these guys do it so much better than many of their peers(*cough* ancient rites *cough*), and Emprise to Avalon is a fairly excellent, if redundant record. With more exposure, they could appeal to a wide cross section of a headbangers.
The first reference point has to be Skyclad, the godfathers of folk driven metal. EtA is dripping with guitar harmonies and triumphant chord progressions that carry the "strolling pirate" vibe Skyclad perfected. It must be noted that their guitar lines are arranged in a way most pleasing to the ear (at least mine) and this is never a bad thing.
What IS a bad thing is formulaic songwriting. Nearly every song has the same progressions and movements (not to mention many of the same licks) and after a while it just gets plain old. My other beef is their vocalist... the harshest Lindberg style vocals clash over this melodic music, and it's not a pretty combination.
Suidakra are at their finest in a stripped down acoustic setting... it brings out the power in their music, and I wouldn't mind hearing an entire album like As the Giants Dance. So, if you enjoy melodic metal of any ilk (gothenburg, trad. etc) there's something to be heard in suidakra.... not really dynamic but hella c00l
and check out their website (suidakra.com). well done.