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Folk metal that has the guts and the experiments - 77%

kluseba, September 14th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Totemism Productions (Limited edition)

Did you ever wonder what the numerous Chinese folk metal bands like Nine Treasures and Tengger Cavalry sounded like if they were a little bit heavier but without shifting into extreme metal territory? Dream Spirit give you the answer to this question on the concise, entertaining and powerful General Triumphant record.

On one side, the band combines classic melodic heavy metal melodies with a few slightly more fast and sinister riffs, an energizing rhythm section and variable vocals between melodic clean vocals, a few restrained screams and a few select gang shouts here and there. Most songs have some folk melodies that are either supported by conceptual lyrical themes, some genuine folk instrument sounds or occasional epic keyboard layers. The band manages to find its own niche by focusing more on the metal elements and using the folk influences in appropriate, concise and original doses. This makes for a dynamic sound and the rather amateurish production only helps to distinguish the band from the elevated number of pretentious folk metal bands these days that overload their records with layers of folk and symphonic instruments.

A great example for the band's sound is ''Of Daggers and Men''. The melodic vocals and fast twin guitar leads follow traditional heavy metal and European power metal standards while atmospheric keyboard passages and grounded flute sounds give the group its very own folk style. Before the catchy chorus shifts the song into too saccharine territory, the band comes around with a few more sinister riffs in the verses and a few extreme metal vocals in the background. Each stylistic element is employed carefully and cleverly and one discovers more details with every spin. Especially the shorter songs on the record sound very coherent as they have quite similar stylistic elements.

The playful symphonic keyboard sounds plus the traditional Chinese string instrument used in ''Ancient Poems'' make for a dreamy atmosphere that is brought down to earth with vivid drum passages and gripping hard rock riffs. The melodic lead vocals lead us passionately through this fantastic combination. This is my favorite song on the record but the fast album closer ''Song of Triumph'' that does its title justice and convinces with uplifting melodies and enthusiastic gang shouts comes very close as well.

The longer tracks are however much harder to digest and show the band's experimental side. These ambitious tracks are at times lacking cohesion. This is particularly the case for ''Morbid Souls''. The track focuses on a depressive and gloomy atmosphere with low and noisy guitar sounds and a few mellower keyboard melodies which is a strategy that is often employed by Chinese post-rock and black metal bands. Only the melodic vocals remind us that we are still listening to Dream Spirit and not to Esthète Sinistre. These soundscapes drag on for far too long and lose momentum as the first notable change only occurs five and a half minutes into the track. The more melodic and vivid finale supported by uplifting flute sounds feels rushed in less than two minutes and the chaotic backing vocals somewhere between spoken-word passages and throaty shouts don't really blend in. This song includes enough ideas for three tracks but the final version is simply going nowhere. If the band managed to keep its more ambitious tracks simpler, they would unfold much better.

On a side note, the album didn't need three instrumental tracks out of only nine songs in total either. While the tracks underline the instrumentalists' talents and provide a suitable atmosphere to the conceptual record, the band could have just stuck with the dynamic but slightly overlong ''Might as the Sea'' and should have skipped the other two shorter interludes.

Dream Spirit might not attain the level of epic storytelling and gripping emotions of bands such as Tang Dynasty or The Last Successor yet but the group is already a refreshing alternative to Nine Treasures and Tengger Cavalry and could one day become one of China's most distinctive metal bands. The creativity, passion and talent are already present on General Triumphant even though the songwriting isn't perfect yet.