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A Promising Beginning - 70%

Sokratemnos, March 30th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Northern Silence Productions (Limited edition, Digipak)

From what I’ve seen, Cân Bardd’s “Nature Stays Silent” has been receiving some polarising reactions since its official YouTube premiere. Whilst many are lauding its melodic prowess, others aim major criticisms at its production. Having always respected Northern Silence Production’s choice in bands, it was in eager anticipation that I dove into the album, with no idea of what to truly expect.

Unfortunately, it became swiftly apparent that the production is indeed an issue that requires discussing, and I suppose that it’s always easier to address the elephant in the room sooner rather than later. According to Bandcamp, project mastermind Malo Civelli is responsible for the mix, with Mike Lamb (of epic black metal titans Sojourner) handling the mastering. Whilst one doesn’t go into a debut black metal album expecting the polish that might be found in a genre like power metal, the fact remains that the drums and vocals are drenched in reverb, a technique often used to disguise poor performance. Prominent bands in the genre, like Summoning, Caladan Brood and Sojourner, all take different approaches to production in their melodic metal, yet all have prominent drums that enhance and drive the atmosphere. In contrast, Cân Bardd’s drums really suffer under the production, to the point of being painfully noticeable every time they come in. Of special note is the kick; it really shouldn’t have much reverb at all, in order to provide clarity, but instead makes each blast section an endurance test for the listener; an early blast in “Méditation Glaciale” is particularly notable as being criminally offensive, also suffering from overloud bass in addition to the abrasive drums. In the case of the vocals, there’s a definite resemblance to the approach taken by Saor, especially on the lower vocals; unfortunately for Cân Bardd, Saor’s vocals have always been the main drawback for me personally, and so the approach doesn’t do anything for me in this scenario. Furthermore, especially on “An Evolving Painting”, the pseudo-Saor vocals are weak and lacklustre, making the contrast an unflattering one. In the case of the cleans, I do suspect that the reverb is intentionally disguising the performance somewhat. I will say, however, that in some cases such, as in the opening of “Méditation Glaciale”, the chanting effect is clearly the intention, and does work far better.

Having got that out the way, we can now discuss the actual songs themselves. Simply put, Civelli has written some of the finest melodies I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. Album opener “Introduction” builds gradually, with a harp fluttering and weaving a melody around a clean guitar pattern. Strings and choir pads build around this, before the sudden introduction of a tremolo guitar riff that makes the heart skip a beat - and this is only a teaser of what Cân Bardd have in store. After a grand opening, “An Evolving Pattern” drops out to allow a delay-rich clean guitar melody to take centre stage, a melody that conjures images of still lakes and the like. Whilst the rest of the song returns to an epic scale, with a particularly excellent use of clean and harsh vocals together, that melody is constantly reprised. “Underwater” is an album highlight, with a more desperately emotional melody and chord progression building to a massive climax that features a powerful, wailing guitar lead. The best, however, is saved for last; “A Gift For Nature” opens with a stunning opening riff, with full epic melodic sensibilities on show. Of special note are the rhythmic variations throughout the song that compliment the melody, truly making this a standout track; even the return of the pseudo-Saor vocals isn’t enough to dissuade me from loving this song. The climax especially is one of the best on the album, with clean choirs and exquisite ascending scales on piano and guitar.

Complementing their melodic genius, Cân Bardd also show a true understanding for atmosphere, and the ways in which to create and develop it. Playing on a heavy folk influence, “My Ancestors” creates a sense of being taken on a journey through a medieval film, with whistles and strings abound. The soundtrack feel is further served by the distance of the vocals; the reverb means that the lyrics are indistinguishable, and thus don’t distract the listener from the mental image that the music has conjures. The opening of “Underwater” has an excellent choice of synth; the Lustre-style key pad sounds like it’s resonating from the depths, preparing the listener for this ocean based excursion. For a track about sacrificing oneself to nature, the atmosphere in “A Gift To Nature” is contrastingly upbeat and jaunty, thus creating a sense of wonder and grand scale. In terms of atmosphere though, the masterclass is “Méditation Glaciale”. The track opens with chanting vocals, making the beginning really seem like a meditation. A powerfully epic string melody then develops, then leads into an ambient woodwind break. Putting the major production issues with drums and bass aside, the chorus is truly beautiful. Later in the track, a choral and orchestral break brings us back to the excellent meditation atmosphere, and showcases the real potential of this band’s melodic ability. Calm emotions develop through the extended instrumental section of the latter half of the song, with instruments expertly weaving in and out of carrying the melody. As the song slowly ends with mournful piano, you feel a real sense of tragic impact; Cân Bardd’s meditation on nature is one of beautiful sorrow.

Not every song is a hit, however. “Océan” attempts to follow a more upbeat and jaunty folk style, but relies too heavily upon the flawed drums and rhythmic elements and is thus not nearly as impactful as intended. The whistle melodies are decent, but don’t showcase anything that can’t be found on other tracks, and the clean singing here is probably the weakest on the album. There’s a definite sense that “Océan” is unfortunately placed; following two of the most emotive songs on the record was always going to be tricky, and the song falls short of successfully living up to its potential. The album then stumbles again; “Abîme” displays some pleasant enough melodies, but, nearly an hour into the album, listeners fatigue does start to set in, especially as variety seems to be limited. Furthermore, the dsbm-style vocals on this track are really not my cup of tea. Ultimately, when the song ends, I don’t have anything near the same sense of emotional impact that other songs have given me.

Variety is certainly an issue on ‘Nature Stays Silent’. Within each 8+ minutes song, melodic variation is pretty limited. Although each individual song uses different instruments more prominently, thus making each one a different experience, there’s also a certain predictability in the structures; seven of the eight tracks start calmly, have a full band explosion, and then carry on until a climax about two minutes from the end. By the end of the album, it feels like Cân Bardd could easily have shaved off about 10 minutes, and not really lost any of their atmospheric presence or melodic development. I get the sense that on repeat listens, I’ll be skipping two or three songs in order to make the experience a more digest-able listen, which is a shame considering the amount of work that’s clearly gone into every song.

I find that epic melodic music, whether it be power metal, symphonic metal or folk metal, always benefits from high quality production where every instrument is crisp and clear and has a distinct place in the mix. Cân Bardd’s melodies and atmosphere remain exquisite throughout most of the album, but they would ultimately be far more impactful if the production were clearer. This is especially apparent in the interludes where the drums and guitars are absent; here, the orchestration shows itself to be truly extraordinary. I really hope that Cân Bardd’s follow up album is given the treatment it deserves, because Malo Civelli clearly has the songwriting talent to churn out masterpiece after masterpiece. I’m confident that it’ll be worth the wait.

Standout Tracks: Méditation Glaciale, Underwater, A Gift For Nature