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General consensus seems to be that The Arcanum is Suidakra's first true masterpiece and example of the sound most of us have come to appreciate them for. I actually disagree, since I feel that Emprise to Avalon and most everything afterward are far more "riffy" than The Arcanum, rendering it somewhat obsolete in direct comparison. Now, the many of you who hold The Arcanum in the highest of regard would do well to extend simply one step further in Suidakra's history, since Lays from Afar is the true precursor in both style and substance. Daniela Voigt is still here, imparting a slightly different approach to the keyboards, even if she pales to Antonik's performances later on. This isn't the off-kilter black/folk/melodeath fraternization of the band's earliest years; it is definitely a more mature product.
Schoenen's glorious clean vocals, discrete folk hooks and speedy, thrashing guitar acrobatics define the prime directives on Lays from Afar. Antonik still delivers his introspective narratives via a blackened sneer, giving the entire affair a multifaceted approach that feels very distinctive, characteristic and charismatic. Although the hooks lack the memorability of Emprise to Avalon and Caledonia, they are ambitious and omnipresent. The guitars spend as much time skirting up and down the scale (sometimes aimlessly) as they do anything else. Raucous annihilation isn't exactly Suidakra's goal here, but songs like "The Well of Might" should satiate most bloodletting requirements. The rhythm guitars cycle between thrashing discord and chunkier Gothenburg-type machismo. Schoenen, however, steals the show as usual. His majestic, throaty inflection totally sells the clean vocal sections, and his acoustic texturing is of a caliber Antonik can't quite replicate on his own. The meandering nature of the material after Schoenen's departure is testament to this. Sorry Crógacht fans.
Most of the songs here are fairly compact length-wise, but feel longer due to the prevalence of shifts in both tempo and tone. Tunes often go from metal bombast to mournful acoustic jam sessions and back again. This damages the lasting power of the riffs sometimes, because there are very few A-class riffs here, riveting hooks notwithstanding. Production is also uneven, in a manner quite similar to The Arcanum. Guitars are thin and reedy sounding, clashing with the surprisingly well-mixed drums. This washes some of the leads out, but more importantly weakens the impact of the rhythm. The band's sense of direction is sound, if a bit scattered at times, resulting in a handful of tunes that are great fun to listen to but hard to tell apart afterward. Regardless, "A Darksome Path," "The Hidden Quest" and "The Well of Might" are all highlights.
At the end of the day, Lays from Afar fails to live up to the lofty standard set by those which came after it, but fans of Suidakra will certainly enjoy this album for what it is. It is far more polished-sounding than people give it credit for, even with the iffy guitar tone. It effectively fills out the band's chosen niche and contains enough strong melodies to warrant the often-abstract folk tag. It has its strong moments, and ultimately feels exactly like it should given its place in the timeline: a slightly less-refined The Arcanum. I would end this review by saying it is Suidakra; one can hardly go wrong with them. Sadly, the new album has rendered such a statement incorrect.
Some bands have to make several attempts before truly finding their niche and this is particularly true of musicians who go for a hybrid style. This could be particularly attributed to bands who have found themselves in a transitional period between 2 previous musical scene crazes and an emerging third one that would envelop and somewhat incorporate both. Suidakra entered at such a point and time, and like Ensiferum during their early demos, took some time experimenting with the hybrid of melodeath/black/folk influences that have since become fairly commonplace, but by the early 90s was still a relatively new concept. While the two previous albums before this one show a general move away from the Dimmu Borgir meets Windir roots that embodied their demo, “Lays From Afar” marks the first really overt example of what is now their established sound.
Gone are the loosely fitting pieces of the puzzle, and in their place is a tight, very much together formula that still incorporates many differing influences, but in a fully unified fashion. The songs are compact and relatively short, consistently melodic and forbidding, and much more heroic in character. It sticks much more closely to the extreme roots of their black metal influences than Ensiferum, and more closely resembles the frenzied riffing approach of the Norwegian school rather than the power metal tinged sound that largely dominates the Finns’ side of the debate. The keyboard work has been restrained a bit more to establish a more metallic character to the more aggressive songs, and the ballads are much more percussive and folksy than atmospheric, which plays somewhat closer to practices introduced by Skyclad in the years prior.
If there is one unifying theme that really expresses what this album is about, it would be that of intensity. With a formidable collection of riff happy blasters in “A Darksome Path” and “The Well Of Might” comes a host of fast moving melodic devices that rest somewhere between the blurring character of mid 90s Immortal and the thrashing power metal precision of early Skyfire. In fact, putting aside the blackened tremolo melodies and folksy acoustic sections that pop in and out, this album largely resembles the blazing fury of “Timeless Departure” in terms of speed and content. The band settles themselves down a bit with more acoustic content and keyboards on “The Hidden Quest” (which gets closest to being a token ballad) and the title song “Lays From Afar”, but even in these softer, short scale epics there is still plenty of flash and flair to entice anyone who likes their melodic material on the more technical side. The shorter instrumentals function well when listening straight through from start to finish, but individually they sort of lose their punch, in much the same way as the brief instrumentals found on “Nightfall On Middle Earth”.
This is the Suidakra that everyone heaps praises on today and rightly so. The vocals are vile and blackened, the music is melodic and beautiful, though clearly not liking in a good metallic edge, and all of the weak aspects have been drastically scaled back, and in the case of Daniela Voigt’s vocals, there has been an improvement. The only thing that holds this back a little is a somewhat wanting production value, particularly insofar as the tinny drum sound goes. But in terms of this band’s overall discography, this is the earliest of their albums that would qualify as being an essential buy for anyone who likes their Celtic/Viking music with its beard long and unwashed.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 24, 2011.
There is a certain intensity and catchiness than only Suidakra seems to be able to capture, and this album is absolutely brimming with it. Suidakra is also a band that changes styles with every album they release. This time around they're melodic black/power/folk. Kinda sounds like Dissection meets Blind Guardian
Lays From afar has incredible power metal riffs, black metal style guitar work, and beautiful folkish leads. Arkadius's vocals are a high pitched black metal scream, and Marcel's clean vocals go perfectly with the power metal aspect.
Lays From Afar is a concept album that follows the story of a man who gets sent to a far away land and spends his life questing for a way home. The lyrics are not very well written, but the story is very entertaining
Here is a run-through of all the tracks.
1, A Darksome Path
Starts off with some eerie wind sounds and quickly jumps into some awesome riffage and harsh vocals. The spoken passages and the ensuing guitars at the two minute mark are very nice. The lead at 2:40 is the highlight of the song, very epic sounding. Some nice keyboard work throughout to further enhance the epicness. An extremely memorable song.
2, Chants of Lethe
The second best song on the album. Great clean and harsh vocals, lots of variation throughout. The guitars at 1:50 - 2:10 kick my ass every time. It doesn't get much more epic than this.
3, The Well of Might
The best song on the album, and one of the best songs of all time.
"Under his crown a million creatures crawled
A twisted tongue for a gesture of kindness
Each glimpse made them turn to stone
Their eyes like snow long for blindness
... so long in blindness"
This song builds up through several black metal and power metal sections until is pummels you with some of the best riffs ever at 2:18.
4, The Hidden Quest
The one ballad on the album. It's not a whiny ballad though, it retains some heavyness and sounds really epic. I don't know if it even should be considered a "Ballad". It's simply the slowest and most melodic full song on the album. The Hidden Quest is a very good song with an awesome flute melody that I find myself humming all the time.
"Morrigan - three faced goddess dark and wild
For thee I'll raise my sword and shield
Morrigan - grimmest crow beneath the sky
May the eyes of thousands please thy raging greed"
Catchiest chorus ever.
Besides the catchiest chorus ever and being the catchiest song on the album, Morrigan sports the best guitar solo on the album at 2:13.
One of the short acoustic songs that Suidakra are known to do. Songs such as this are good because they add variety.
7, Wasted Lands
Some fast power metal riffage and a great folk melody throughout. The guitars at 1:40 own my soul. Some female vocals at 3:20 are a very nice touch and add to the effect of the subsequent guitar solo.
8, Strayed in Nowhere
More of what you have come to expect from Lays From Afar. Epic as fuck.
A short keyboard song. Very relaxing.
10, Lays From Afar
Begins slowly and builds up to the grand finale. Lots of variation here, jumping back and forth between different styles and tempos. Great keyboards. The guitars at 2:25 are 100% Blind Guardian.
Lays From Afar is a very inspiring, uplifting, and original album; truly a classic. You should try this if you are a fan of any sort of metal. Another up-side to Lays From Afar is that the re-issue comes with Suidakra's first album Lupine Essence, which is not quite as good as Lays from afar, but it's very much worth a listen.