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Bagpipe solos and electronics save the day - 81%

gasmask_colostomy, December 8th, 2019

Good introductions can do a lot of good for any band, and Slartibartfass have 2 things working in their favour on this most recent (though 8 year old) album Schwarz Verhüllt. The first seems pretty obvious, since it’s that name, taken from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as a less obvious pointer to Nordic themes, while the second comes in the ranting spells that a witch casts during ‘Prolog’. Take heed though, out of 6 members playing on this fourth full-length, 3 of them can play Jew’s harp, one of them resides in the line-up specifically for bagpipe duties, and that’s not to mention the accordion and keyboards added to the mix at times. Schwarz Verhüllt may have a black metal aura, yet the heart of the band beats a folk metal tune.

When I say black metal, however, I find this quite an easy style to get into, playing more in general extreme environs that include harsh vocals, quite a bit of marching and chugging, plus some darker riffs that churn menacingly. Think of stuff like Gwydion, Ensiferum, and even Rimfrost and you’ll be in the right area. Still remember to keep an open mind, since Slartibartfass show right from the almost 10 minute ‘Kapitel I: Sehnsucht (Dämmerung in Verschneitem Wald)’ that they are unafraid of things like electronics entering the mix, while a bagpipe solo ranks among my favourite features, which I didn’t expect to be saying of a song that plumps for a title somewhere between Ulver and Rammstein classics. Admittedly, the reason I ever became interested in these Germans was when I heard ‘St Cuthbert’ (from 2007’s Nebelheim) and me and my sister looked at each other astonished before shouting “metal with bagpipes!” – a happy day indeed.

Those bagpipes makes themselves known at other times too, such as opening the following cut, but those electronic synths come back too, leaving this far from any typical folky sound. Perhaps the best way to do justice to Slartibartfass would be to say that Schwarz Verhüllt uses a lot of folk elements in a dynamic mix, but without sounding traditionally folky. The narration comes back a few times, usually quite subtly, leaving me thinking of Cradle of Filth if they had the advantage of being German and were able to approach the gothic interludes from a totally different angle. A slightly higher proportion of leads marks Schwarz Verhüllt out from the Englishmen, although the frequency of bagpipe soloing continues to impress me with each listen. The lonely instance of a typical heavy metal solo that flows out of the violin section of ‘Erhabenheit (Die Königin dem Grab Entsteigt)’ actually shows rather a split from the feel of the other material, making me wonder what happened to the atmosphere.

Despite a few points that could stand to be fine-tuned, I find that I’m really quite in favour of the sound Slartibartfass pulled out on Schwarz Verhüllt, perhaps even more so than those heady days of ‘St Cuthbert’. The bagpipes and other folky instruments are integrated incredibly well, plus I can’t believe how they made the moody electronics come off so well without totally changing the mood. As a result, I kind of wish that the Germans had carried on down this road instead of the unfortunate 8 years of silence that have followed.