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While I doubt many would argue that Signs for the Fallen fails to live up to its direct predecessor, public opinion ranks this one right up there with Caledonia and The Arcanum as some of Suidakra's best work. Maybe the garrulous, meandering departure that was Command to Charge has retroactively basked Signs for the Fallen under a more appealing light, but I honestly can't allocate much room in my heart for this one. I can't necessarily say that this album exists as an overt stylistic bridge between the two albums that bookend it, but some of the more bare-bones melodic death stylings present here definitely laid some of the groundwork that eventually cemented Command to Charge's overall approach. While any Suidakra record will undoubtedly have its moments, the band isn't necessarily playing to its most obvious strengths here.
One undoubtedly has to hand it to Antonik for his relentless abandon and prolific output, and while it is fairly obvious that the darker, more nose-to-the-grindstone aesthetics here were a conscious decision on his part, something is clearly lacking compared to Emprise to Avalon. To address what is always the album centerpiece right away: The leads are marked and pronounced as always, but lack that "something extra" that gave songs like "Darkane Times" and "Pendragon's Fall" such a great appeal. Imagine the less interesting sections on Emprise to Avalon stretched to fill nearly an entire album. The production is undoubtedly beefed up to finally match the animosity of Antonik's delivery, but even through this the proceedings can't come out unscathed. The rhythm section is crunchy and overdriven, nearly to the point of obfuscating the riffs themselves. Listen to the beginning of "Revenant," which sounds great at first until you focus and realize the amazing riff underneath everything is nearly wasted due to the overloud nature of the drums and vocals. As such, Signs for the Fallen is definitely a harder sell than most of Suidakra's other post-The Arcanum records, but let's not give up all hope just yet.
Antonik yet again proves his capabilities on the keyboards. While there aren't nearly as many as on Emprise to Avalon, "Threnody" is a great snapshot of what he is capable of and is a true album highlight. It reminds me of "The Spoils of Annwn," so I am definitely not complaining there. The more affecting "The Ember Deid" segues into "When Eternity Echoes" and now we finally begin to get somewhere. The leads are so ripe they risk spoiling, and the entire song moves as a meticulously crafted pace. Still, only two minutes long? Contrasting the former with longer, more drawn-out numbers like "Bound in Changes" really shows the flaws in the approach here. Schoenen always sounds great and is extensively featured, but it can only do so much to salvage these proceedings. I will concede that "Trails of Gore" is focused as all hell and is probably the best non-instrumental song here after "When Eternity Echoes." Still, three tracks out of ten just doesn't cut it for Suidakra; at least not by my criterion.
Don't get me wrong though, Signs for the Fallen is very well executed melodic death. I just don't feel that it accentuates Suidakra's best side. Caledonia refined this approach, has a much more appealing melodic element, and features more balanced production values (Riewaldt's bass is nonexistent here). Too many of these tracks simply exist as songs on an album, and needed a bit more thought put into them to compare with what we have come to expect from these Germans. I have read in interviews that Antonik was put under an inordinate amount of stress by Century Media, who after getting an album's worth of material out of him, refused to promote Signs for the Fallen at all. As such, this one might be a bit hard to track down, but at the same time I can't really say that it is worth the trouble. Listen to Emprise to Avalon and Caledonia first, then maybe give this one a shot. Not their best by any measure.
The notion of Suidakra being compared to the likes of Dark Tranquillity and In Flames originally struck me as odd, primarily because the comparison is only relevant insofar as it would be to other bands like Ensiferum that applied the signature cold and throaty vocal shouts to what was otherwise a far more upbeat and traditional speed/thrash oriented sound. But this notion is definitely with a fair amount of weight when considering the middle era albums, most particularly that of “Signs For The Fallen”, which is actually one of the last albums that I’ve encountered of their prolific, 17 year history. While Arkadius and his flock have been somewhat unconventional in their take on extreme metal with a folksy twist, this is an album that can be classified as very conventional if the standard is pre-2002 Gothenburg faire, but it’s also extremely good in spite of this.
The imposing figure of what appears to be an orc in full armor on the cover is both revealing and deceptive. The general darkness of the lyrics and music could lend itself to some dark tyrant in the mold of Sauron conquering the world one nation at a time, but the theme here is not nearly as specific as it was on the last two albums. In fact, minus the album’s exterior and this band’s history with overtly Celtic themes, this album could pass for a non-fantasy based melodeath album in the mold of a number of Gothenburg influenced outfits. In similar fashion, the period instruments and folk melodies have been downplayed significantly in favor of an atmospheric keyboard aesthetic that is definitely reminiscent of the colder Swedish style, alongside the more frequent employing of blurring tremolo riffs and a less thrash oriented rhythm section.
From the first to the last note played, “Signs For The Fallen” is the picture of stylistic consistency, all but casting aside the blackened and folksy character of their established sound. When hearing the droning melodic lines and dark, heavy riff work of “Revenant”, “Crown The Lost” and “Trails Of Gore”, images of “The Jester Race” and “The Gallery” immediately slip out. Perhaps the only thing that really keeps this wholly distinctive is Marcel Schoenen’s clean vocals, which sound somewhat punk oriented alongside the crunchy riff work that has replaced the acoustic period instruments. Arkadius’ vocal work has also undergone a metamorphosis towards something not all that far removed from Mikael Stanne. The instrumental interludes are more ambient than anything else, but a tiny sliver of the band’s Celtic influences slip through, particularly on “The Ember Died” and in a more melodeath variant on “When Eternity Echoes”.
The principle incentive for experiencing this era of Suidakra lay in their ability to adapt this conventional, stylized approach to their Manowar/Bathory oriented style of epic sounds. This is underscored by the very ambitious and memorable “Bound In Changes”, which does an excellent job of balancing repetition with gradual progression and showcases a solid command of atmospheric effects. It’s among the simpler albums that they’ve put out and will probably have more crossover appeal to the Gothenburg fanbase and Amon Amarth junkies than anything else under the Suidakra name. Yet at the same time, this album stands on its own as one of the better representations of melodeath in that it doesn’t overindulge most of the style’s clichés and avoids falling into the overly commercial pitfall of oversimplifying the formula at the cost of keeping things interesting. They say that the best bands will keep you guessing, and this album definitely threw some of my premises about this band for a loop.
You know those times when you hear a new album for the first time and you go 'wow,' and the same effect is replicated with the second listen, too? It doesn't happen often, especially with the slow decline of many of the metal genre's so-called legendary bands, so imagine the eyebrows that were raised upon hearing Germany's Suidakra - and more specifically their sixth album Signs for the Fallen - for the first time earlier this year. Melodic Death that actually had some real kicking energy, innovative power and lasting longevity? I thought such a thing was impossible, but Suidakra damn well proved me wrong with this one.
A lot of the times this doesn't even sound like what you'd associate with Melodic Death Metal. It doesn't languish excessively in fluttery keyboards or plod along with turgid atmospheric sections, or try too hard to come off as dark or insightful. No, aside from the obvious aesthetic differences, Suidakra are a tried-and-true Heavy Metal behemoth, with riff constructions that dive and weave and soar and punch in a melodic, aggressive fashion that calls upon classic 80s influences as much as it does modern Death/Folk ones. Where on previous recordings they were more out-and-out folksy and tribal, with riffs that sort of bounced along in a metallic way to the folk backdrop, here they blow open the gates with huge, heavy as Hell riffage, with the folk influence sort of taking a backseat - a much appreciated gesture, I think, allowing for more dynamic and aggression in the music. The guitar tone is noticeably more modern, but that's a good thing here. Listening to their past efforts, it was pretty clear that this was a band too talented to stick to the same formula over and over again; the more happy, bouncy style (but still aggressive enough) that they had been developing. They hit a real smooth stride with Emprise to Avalon the year previous, and after that they just had to change style - there was nowhere else to take their previous one.
Every song on here is pretty much on the same level of quality. That is to say, they are all absolutely stellar, with frontman Arkadius churning out crunchy, thick True Metal-influenced riffs barbed with hooks flying at you like daggers in an Asian martial arts movie, while the rapid-fire drumming of Lars Wehner pounds through the backdrop - and let me say something about the drumming before I move onto anything else. Mr. Wehner does a commendable job here, with his visceral, bloodthirsty drumming really giving the music an extra dose of manic energy, and making the band sound even more like they're about to rip your throat out and feed it to you. Which, I suppose, would end up sliding right out through the gaping hole in your neck that was just torn.
Arkadius' guitar-work...well, it goes without saying that it's great, being Arkadius, who is honestly one of the best modern metal guitarists out there these days. He has an unmistakable style, very urgent and commanding, like every note he plays might be the last one he could ever play in his life. The folk influence is still here, giving a foreign bounce to most of the riffs here, but as I said before, it is less pronounced. Even then, though, these riffs are like nothing else you've ever heard. The songs on here are all lushly constructed, going through several different tempo changes and different riffs, always remaining interesting and compelling no matter what. Songs like "Dimorphic," "Trails of Gore" and the excellent opener "Revenant" explode with subtle technicality and metallic triumph, skipping along with relative ease and smashing ear-drums everywhere - a most pleasant way to go out, I'd say! The eight minute "Bound in Changes" is the real crown jewel here, though, as it does what the other songs do except for much longer, and, as the natural laws of reality would have you believe, it is that much more pleasurable.
Suidakra are a world class band that doesn't get near the amount of attention they need. In a just world, this band would be leading the extreme metal front by the nose, right up there with underground gems like The Chasm and Intestine Baalism. In a just world, they would be praised rightfully for their great work, and be elevated to demi-godhood for Signs of the Fallen in particular, which is as good as the metal genre gets. Melodic, aggressive, passionate and creative, Suidakra have served up a hot slice of victory for the true metal front, and any fan of the genre needs this immediately. So go get it.
The new Suidakra came as quite a shock to me. After being extremely satisfied with their prior release Emprise to Avalon, I was shock when at first their new album sounded like nothing more than a Gothenburg act. Fortunately before residing the album to a life of obscurity, I decided to give it another full listen. Boy am I glad I did, because while Signs for the Fallen may not be as unique and distinct as Emprise To Avalon it is just as good. As I already said, Signs for the Fallen, is rooted in a Gothenburg tradition. Mainly in the sense that the riffage is melodic crunchy (similar to bands like at the gates, dark tranquility, etc). However despite a Gothenburg backbone suidakra still mange to make their music distinctive and quite original at that. Suidakra maintain their token guitar tune which still manages to give the music a medieval battle like feel (suidakra guitar tune feels like your on a galloping horse). The beloved clean vocals (at least in my opinion) are still their and it seems like there is even a second clean vocalist in the mix. The overall sound is extremely tight and very melodic sounding without being blatant. Perhaps the biggest improvement about this release is the reign of a new drummer, who kicks some serious ass. The double bass on this album is off the hook, it just gallops away completely flowing with the music, and not sounding at all clicky. The vocals as usual are excellent very epic and spite full yet full of beauty.
I therefore highly recommend this cd to all, and proclaim it to be one of the top 5 releases of 2003. The only thing I can complain about this album is that it’s a little short (under 43 minutes)