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Of all the various blackened polyps that sprang out of the mid 90s, Suidakra is a very curious one for those interested in the development of the sound outside of the Scandinavia region. For all intents and purposes, they are a black metal band at this point in their history, as testified by their dreary album art and lo-fi production practices. There is a peculiar convergence of Gothenburg influences, largely resembling Dark Tranquillity, and a heavy helping of folksy acoustic and keyboard heavy interludes that are a little bit too consonant and catchy to be Windir inspired, but also a bit too obscure for the prepubescent demo that was put out by Ensiferum circa 1997. But largely the band is well within the confines of what is considered black metal orthodoxy, albeit pretty far from most of the prime movers in Norway and Sweden, save perhaps Dimmu Borgir.
In keeping with all of these rather varied yet quite compatible elements, “Lupine Essence” is a minor, yet highly satisfying listen from a historical perspective. The prominent clean male and female vocal work does offer a somewhat melancholy gothic tinge to what is otherwise a very epic and aggressive offering. It’s familiar sounding, yet very unique, bridging the atmospheric and nostalgic character of Burzum’s ambient tendencies with the tuneful and riff happy character of the more thrashing elements of mid 90s melodeath. There’s something of a weak link in the guitar soloing, which seems to be trying to emulate aspects of this band’s death/thrash history while keeping it within a folksy and simplistic character, and comes off as a bit forced and sloppy. Likewise, Daniela Voigt’s vocals are extremely soft and almost mouse-like, sounding more akin to a frightened child next to Arkadius’ Ihsahn inspired sepulchral mutterings and shrieks.
For all of the grimness and coldness in the album cover, this album doesn’t really come off as the frostbitten inspired fury in the line of early Immortal that one might expect. The opening “Banshee” almost sounds like early Iron Maiden before the blackened vocals kick in, and afterwards is extremely thrash-infused and melodic, perhaps in line with early Gorgoroth at times, but definitely presented in a manner more in the spirit of In Flames than otherwise. Things veer into a steady stream of blackened goodness on “Heresy”, “Havoc” and the addition of early demo song “Internal Epidemic”, but largely the composite approach of styles rules the day and makes for an interesting experience. The ballads kind of plod about a bit, with “Sheltering Dreams” being a particularly weak spot due to an inferior vocal job out of Voigt, but they work fairly well as folksy variants on the solemn acoustic work that came out of some members of the early 2nd wave.
Although very short and wanting in a few areas, from a historical standpoint as well as a unique pick from a crowded field, this is a solid first rung in the high ladder that has spanned Suidakra’s 16 year career. This is something that fans of “For All Tid” and early Satyricon could probably appreciate, though more melodic and lighter sounding. It is different from the high folk sound of late heard out of the band, which puts them much closer to Ensiferum, but is also worth exploring, even by those who have only recently discovered the band through “Emprise Of Avalon” or any of the albums that came after.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 22, 2011.
Suidakra’s Lupine Essence is an enjoyable, though unpolished, debut of a band whose sound has not quite matured to its full potential. It blends elements of folk, melodic death, and black metal quite nicely, but suffers from a few flaws which are quite noticeable. I will start with the cons. Firstly, it sounds like it was recorded in a basement. This is not always a bad thing, but Suidakra is a band with strong emphasis on melody and therefore the raw sound does take a bit away from the beauty. The harsh vocals in particular sound like they were well executed, but the thin sound quality makes them sound a bit weak. The guitar solos tend to be similar sounding and repetitive, though they are not a prominent part of the band’s sound. The greatest flaw of Lupine Essence is the female vocals, which are some of the worst I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately she pretty much ruins Sheltering Dreams, where she does lead vocals, but fortunately only appears for a few seconds in sections of other songs. I assume she was supposed to sound soft and pretty, but instead comes off as weak and uninspired. She sings extremely high, to a point where she is just annoying and unpleasant to the ears. Finally, the intro and outro to Internal Epidemic do not seem to quite fit with the mood of the rest of the song; they are too happy sounding.
On the other hand, there are a lot of good things about Lupine Essence. The guitars pull off some very nice folkish melodies and harmonies, which can quickly but smoothly change direction into faster tremolo picked sections, or short bursts of dark, chromatic black metal. Instead of making separate songs spanning the three subgenres, Suidakra manages to blend them effectively into each individual song, for the most part, which makes things quite interesting. The drums may shift accordingly from mid paced beats into blast beats, and the male lead vocals are split between clean and harsh. The harsh vocals are decent black metal/melodic death raspy screams, but the clean are very well executed, maintaining a good tone but with an edge typical of folk/viking metal (Suidakra is technically Celtic). All of these elements provide a good amount of variation in each song, and there is prominent use of keyboards in some sections, particularly the parts that I would call the black metal sections. Another thing that stands out is the relatively prominent bass, which often plays its own melodies, such as at the end of Banshee. Every song on the album is pretty strong except for Sheltering Dreams, but the best are Havoc and Warpipes Call Me. Havoc is, for the most part, a dark, heavy, and aggressive track (the heaviest on the album), but has a beautiful folk section about halfway through with some great clean vocals. Warpipes Call Me is a slower track with almost all clean vocals, and easily the catchiest song on the album. It was redone on a later album, but the remake is significantly different and therefore not simply a better version of the original; I may actually prefer the original.
Overall, I would recommend Lupine Essence to fans of this breed of epic medieval metal, but it might be best to start with a different album if you’re just getting into Suidakra. There are some great songs on here, but too many mediocre moments for it to be a truly great album overall.