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Epic fantasy between barock, folk and metal - 80%

kluseba, July 13th, 2012

Haggard is more than just a band, it's an ensemble of right now twenty-two musicians that mostly have a classic music background and play instruments such as a harpsichord, a piccolo or a timpani but also more common instruments such as cellos, contrabasses and diverse flutes. The whole group is kept together by mastermind Asis Nasseri who is of Afghan and German descent and who plays guitars and some percussions and who also does some growls. He was the main force behind the new record that is not influenced by historical contents as it was the case before. The band leader created the fictional world of Ithiria and even wrote a book about its fantastic tales. The record focusses a lot on the narrative parts and includes five interludes. The lyrics are performed in English, German, Italian, Latin and Spanish and some songs include several of these languages.

Musically, the band focusses more and more on the classical elements. The classic instruments as well as the different female and male vocalists in soprano and tenor probably get more space to express themselves than ever before. The death or heavy metal parts have therefor decreased. Some decent riffs, doublebass and blastbeat passages as well as growls are still present but are more and more pushed into the background. The whole band is probably only comparable to the concept of Therion with the difference that Haggard have a more folk and also opera orientated feeling instead of a strong classic and symphonic side in Therion. Personally, Haggard don't sound as diversified, majestic and perfectly arranged as Therion do but they are surealy worth a try for any fan of symphonic metal.

The record has a couple of positive but also negative facts. Let's start with the bad stuff first. The strange breathless and inhaled sounding growls are definitely a big letdown and don't fit to the well arranged instruments and mostly highly skilled other vocalists. The mastermind sounds as if he would suffer from lung cancer or if he entered the studio after having smoked dozens of cigarettes before. On the other side, I know no vocalist that growls like him and one must admit that his style is quite unique. But unique doesn't always mean original and the band should definitely ask a better death metal vocalist to help them for the next record.

Another little complaint goes to the female vocalist that performs on the well known Spanish "Hijo De La Luna" that feels a little bit out of context on this album. I don't really speak Spanish but I have been a couple of times in Spain and I have also met people from Latin America to have the impression that her pronounciation sounds quite weird. The original pop verson of Mecano is definitely better but the song still overall remains a good one in Haggard's version, especially from the instrumental point of view. The track sounds of course heavier than the original but not too much to harm the original's magic feeling.

Otherwise, the guitars definitely need more space on this record that is dominated by classic instruments and all the different vocalists. Too many cooks may spoil the broth but I would have liked to hear some energizing guitar solos. Apart of piano solos and some violin or flute parts we don't get any true solo on this record. Other folk or symphonic metal bands have shown how great flute or pipe solos could sound and Haggard should try this out, too.

The album is divided into narrative introductions and five main chapters that are the actual songs plus the Mecano cover song. The band needed almost four years to come around with this record and only about half an hour of actual music is not very much in the end. Another negative fact is that there is always a break between the narrative parts and the songs that belong to them. Often, the introductions build up an epic atmosphere as if they were written for a score but then we always have a fade-out and short break before the next song slowly pulls off. We only talk about three to five seconds and some people might say that my judgement is a little bit harsh but these few seconds are enough to destroy the well developed atmosphere and derange the lsitening experience. Next time, the band should put introductions and main songs into one song or at least create fluid transitions.

Now, this all sounds quite negative but we are talking about details. The classic instruments sound great and have different skills to offer. Male and female vocalist work very professionalt, no matter if they perform solos or are combined in epic choirs. There are many calm and folk orientated passages that are very important and help this record to not sound overloaded. This album really has a soul and is well thought out. One can easily follow the main story and feel the slowly changing atmospheres on this record. The short introduction are all surprisngly well elaborated and don't sound boring or forced to fit the concept at all as it is teh case for many other bands when they try to create conceptual records and mostly fail.

The weakest song is sadly the title track "Tales Of Ithiria" that is a little bit too slow and sounds quite bulky for an opening epic. Some passages don't seem to fit together at all, the transitions aren't fluid and the song is definitely a few minutes too long.

The other epic songs are all better and even great. The charming medieval folk sounds in the calm "Upon Fallen Autumn Leaves" slowly fade into a well elaborated operatic track. The string parts are very catchy and even the weird growls sound rather good on this one. Only the dumb drumming that includes some blastbeats is a definite flaw. "La Terra Santa" also has a calm folk atmosphere that is kept throughout the slowest of the five epics. "The Sleeping Child" is a dynamical piece of symphonic metal with great violin melodies, chilling church choirs and loads of well elaborated changes between fast and slow passages. Once again, the weird growls work surprisingly good in some parts. The final "The Hidden Sign" is a very good mix of soft folk sounds and symphonic metal with some heavy and especially death metal parts. The folk parts remind of Elvenking or even Rondo Veneziano while the metal orientated parts make me think of Eternal Tears Of Sorrow or Therion. It's a very good song to finish a quite good record.

In the end, "Tales Of Ithiria" is a great offering for fans of classic, operatic or symphonic metal. The concept is not amongst the most original ones but quite well elaborated in the epic narrative parts as well as in the diversified main tracks. There are some flaws here and there and some improvements to do for the next release but overall, this record is a great listening experience and an atmospheric grower that doesn't fail to bring many images alive in your mind.

Lack of substance. - 26%

Shadespawn, April 4th, 2009

The first encounter with Haggard back in 2005, listening to their "Eppur Si Muove" masterpiece, held a promising becoming of a great band with new ideas that made it seem worthwhile listening to. "And Thou Shalt Trust... The Seer", which I listened to a few weeks later, was a weaker album, but nonetheless not lacking creativity. Haggard are a breath of fresh air in the metal scene, combining elements of classical and baroque music with distorted guitars and fierce heavy drumming to create a sort of humble coexistence between the two. Many bands have tried to fuse these elements, but only a few actually manage to create something near the reach of audible. "Eppur Si Muove" was such a brainchild and as promising as the album was, as high were the hopes that the successor would be as grand as the precursor.

"Tales of Ithiria", however, is a complete and miserable disappointment, lacking most aspects its forerunner had to offer. Almost everything that made "Eppur si muove" grand and majestic, fades like a dim fog in the background of this weak album. While composing the songs for such a band must be as nightmarish as tuning all their instruments live, they still remain dull and lifeless, unlike earlier material. Whatever the cause for this abomination, it is disappointing at best, atrocious at worst. The album's concept is based on thoughts and stories of frontman Asis Nasseri, who, by the way, writes most material for the band. He is of German/Italian origin, which makes him stereotypical for classical music. He writes the lyrics in German, Italian, Latin and English. The latter being flawed at times. And if there's one thing for me that's an annoying pain to the ears, it's poor grammar and syntax in English. The EP focuses on some kind of tale about a generic mythical land "Ithiria", where you have the typical struggle of human/dwarf/elf races and of course the everlasting conflict between good and evil. Kings, witches and peasants, it's all there! Very inspiring. Never heard that one before.

The really horrible part of the album is the whole goddamn storytelling and whispering, which are elements that I loathe more than anything else in music (except maybe excessive use of breakdowns and "Jumpdafuckups"). We have a whole 6 minutes, distributed throughout the album, which is very annoying. This gets on your nerves very quickly, not only because the tales themselves are awfully uninspired and boring, but because they stop the natural musical flow of the album. It makes you impatient, grinding your teeth against each other and asking the guy to just shut up and continue with the goddamn music. This of course makes the album itself rather short, reaching only an actual playtime of about 36 minutes. As for the instrumental work, there is almost nothing new an offering to top their 2004 effort. Guitar work is dull and has apparently taken the back seat on this album. The only catchy tunes that can be found here are some vocal duties, preformed in traditional alto and soprano vocal range, by really talented singers. This is affirmed by live experience. The vocals of frontman Asis Nasseri have also weakened. His phrenic grunts were quite dim to begin with, but on this album they have taken a further step down, sounding even more weary.

"Oh god, don't let my heart be weak tonight"

Another weak aspect are the lyrics, as beforementioned in various languages, English being the weakest of them
all. They are simply just generic and boring, enriching my creativity and perception of things to a zero degree.You even have to understand all of the languages to get the full concept and story, which I luckily can. But there still is nothing as near as inspiring or interesting here, in any language.

3000 men scattered at
the first break of dawn
"Now unleash the dragon
to lead me on"

Clearly, another painful aspect on this album is the cover of Mecano's "Hijo de la luna", which is a horrible cover. Many artists have taken this song and made it their own, few have succeeded in making something out of it. If you're looking for a good cover, check out Mario Frangoulis' version of it. The cover on this album is simply worse than the Sarah Brightman version. Picture that together with heavy guitars every once in a while after the verse and then you have it. Not to mention the horrible pronunciation of the Spanish text. After a couple of years of Spanish lessons the grave flaws in the language are clearly audible. The vocal performance is painfully dire, as is the dull and hollow instrumental work for this song.

"Quantus tremor est futurus
Quando Judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus"

Also the "Dies Irae" excerpt is completely out of context. In conclusion, Haggard have managed to take an intense fall down the stairs of creativity and musicianship and not without a few bumps on the head. Regressive art, or simply a momentary lapse of reason? Only time will tell. Keep away from this album, unless you get excited from dullness.

Tales by the fireside on a cold winter evening - 90%

Lord_Tyr, October 18th, 2008

Ever since i've listened to the ethereal sounds that issued forth from Haggard's Eppur Si Muove album, i've been really anticipating the release of their new album - Tales of Ithiria. The album cover that was released in advance, made me wonder if we ought to expect some gothic influences in the lyrics, though fortunately that is not the case. I was also initially a little disappointed to learn that Gaby Koss would not be lending her angelic voice to this record. Those doubts however were immediately assuaged after hearing Susanne Ehlers perform at some live shows.

Tales of Ithiria makes a very interesting album to listen to. We were already aware that the storyline would be fictional/fantasy driven. The lyrics are in English, German and Latin and are very interesting to follow as the parts come together to form the whole story. The lyrics also often take a very poetic turn, inspiring vivid images through the listeners mind. The line about "nightfall murdering the last rays of light" immediately springs to mind, or the reference to death as "mother death" personifying death in a mist of kindness. The story is set in medevial times and as can be guessed from the title, revolves around the ficticious place Ithiria and is told in 5 "chapters" with some interludes, to keep the story moving.

There are many reasons why Tales of Ithiria deserves the praise, that i am certain will be showered upon it. To start, the songs are beautifully constructed to convey a range of emotions, though melancholy permeates through most of the album. And it is this ability to inspire such strong emotions in ourselves that makes Tales of Ithiria such a beautiful Album. The vocals throughout the album are simply spectacular. Susanne Ehlers shines throughout the album, and really outdoes herself in the song Upon Fallen Autumn Leaves. The male vocals too are enthralling, especially the clean ones, though Nasseri's aggressive growls bring their own bit to the table. It is the piano and the army of violins, however that i love the most, and are enthralling throughout. The classically influenced instrumental In Des Königs Hallen is somewhat different from in tone from he rest of the album, but leaves a very strong impression, even though it is just a little over 2 minutes in length. The narration that runs through some of the interludes is also done exceptionally well, especially in On These Endless Fields, that sparks beautiful images as we listen to it.

There are a few aspects about the album that i am not the biggest fan of however. For one, i did not enjoy the folkish cover Hijo de la luna. It was just too mellow. It is the only song that i ever skip on the album. Another aspect that invites me to dock some points, is that the lyrics sometimes(only one or two instances perhaps) walks a fine line between Epic/Grandoise and cheesy.

I only mention these really minor "flaws" to point out how hard it is indeed to find flaws in this album!! Tales of Ithiria overall, is a very very solid effort, and appeals to a wide range of audience. It is certainly an album that will any of it's previous fans will devour, though it might not convert a large chunk of it's previous critics(if such people do exist).

haggard - more classical than ever - 90%

emy_the_raven, September 9th, 2008

After 4 years from the launch of their last material in 2004 (Eppur Si Muove), Haggard fans are rewarded with a new album, more epic than the previous one, entitled Tales of Ithiria that appeared at Drakkar Records on the 29’th of august. Although the initial launch date was 29 July 2007, it was delayed by one year. In fact it is well known that Haggard is working a long time on an album in order to get it more closer to perfection.

Tales of Ithiria seems to be close to this perfection and being very well structured: 5 chapters, 1 cover and a few interesting interludes. Originally called A dark winter's tale, the album is not using historical characters and events anymore being more of a fictional medieval story written by composer Asis Nasseri throughout the lyrics.

The Origin is the intro which sets forth the story. With an epic melodic line and using the balanced and deep voice of Nasseri, the song manages to recreate a wonderful medieval atmosphere that will be present throughout the 43 minutes of the album.

Chapter I - Tales Of Ithiria continues the intro keeping a melancholic line with the use of violin, cello and piano, supplemented by the soprano voice and the clear and pure voice of Florian Schnellinger. The growls are not missing from the song, perfectly integrated with the guitars which beautifully accompany traditional instruments. The lyrics talk about the advices given by the dying father to his young son, at commence of winter.

In Chapter II - Upon Fallen Autumn Leaves the soprano is surpassing herself, as well as the harsh vocals, their duet being remarkable. If in the first chapter the piano had an delicate but important role, in this song he is totally missing, probably because the song wanted to be more agitated and operatic at the same time.

Terra Santa, chapter 3 of the musical story is much more slowly although a few growls are scarcely present. The harp and flute have lots of work in this piece, while the piano is quite subtly.

Violin attracts most of the attention in Chapter IV - The Sleeping Child, also an agitated song in which the piano is missing. Besides the growls and operatic voice, a choir is present through a few passages. The next track, Hijo de la luna or Son of the moon in English, represents a great cover, with Haggard lyrics and traditional instruments introduced in the melodic line. A beautiful track based on piano and violin, while the feminine voice is in faultless harmony whit them.

After the final monologue, which is similar to a war prophecy, continues the last song, Chapter V - The Hidden Sign, which abuse the violin in a pleasant manner, otherwise a distinguishing instrument for the entire album. Nasseri is excelling in this song, but this time, the soprano sings only a few verses. The lyrics are impressive reaching their peak; the band leader demonstrating his literary talent.

One over another, Tales of Ithiria is a beautiful work of art that makes you crave to hear it several times in order to understand and appreciate the entire process of composition and to understand the story of the beautiful lyrics. People who say that this album brings nothing new are building a mistake, because Haggard is a continuing source of originality through their music.