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Envision: An evolution by Smallman - 92%

ArtanisXp, July 8th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Independent

Envision is the third full-length album by Bulgarian outfit Smallman, a band that has had the same four members ever since the release of their first, self-titled record.

All the more curious is the evolution Smallman has gone through in their sound. It's always been a mix between the bass-heavy sound reminiscent of Tool, and the more tribal sounds executed in a way that is unique to Smallman. Most Folk Metal acts that incorporate bagpipes do so in a cheerful, happy-go-lucky way. Perhaps some are a bit gloomier, like how Arkona has used them. However, the slow pace and bass-driven sound combined with the brooding, almost sludgy bagpipe is what sets the band apart from all other bands in the genre. It was present in both previous Smallman records, but never as prominent as it is in Envision.

The biggest improvement from their previous records however has to be the drumming. In both the self titled and Labyrinth of Present, the drumming was somewhat simplistic. This is not to say bad as it served its purpose, but it wasn't the pivotal point of the records. On Envision, the drums take a far more prominent role. There are far more complex fills and rhythms present. A good example of that would be the drum rhythm starting 90 seconds in on The Bond where a hallowing rhythm creates a desperate mood in unison with vocalist Cvetan's piercingly emotional vocals.

Speaking of the vocals, these have also undergone some changes. There is more experimentation to be found on this area as fading vocals are incorporated on Vision which feeds into the atmosphere well. Another experiment from the band can be found on Prayer, as distortion effects are used on the vocals eerily similar to the way The Angelic Process used them on Weighing Souls with Sand, and it works equally well.

The bass driven sound is still present, but doesn't take the spotlight as much as it did on Labyrinth of Present or the self titled, which leads me to say that Envision is more of a Ambient Folk Metal album with Alternative influences rather than the other way around which would've been more accurate on previous efforts, and its amplified their strengths and the thing which makes them unique; their approach to the ethnic sound. The best track on the album, New Day, exemplifies this the most. A long intro with a great guitar interlude reminiscent of Agalloch or Nydvind, followed up by a strong vocal delivery and an intense guitar and bagpipe solo, showcasing all the best sides of the band.

That's not to say there aren't any points of critique on the album. One of which is the placement of the song Vazpelo E Pile. In the previous two records, Smallman created a long, (mostly) instrumental piece as sort of an outro to the album. On Envision, it's placed right before the final song which feels a bit off to me. It breaks the pacing a bit. Furthermore, the booklet doesn't contain lyrics but rather a sheet of paper with the names of all the songs and blank text, encouraging the listener to be influenced by the songs and write it down there. To me, it feels a bit pretentious. Anyone who can order an album can find a piece of paper to scribble on if they're inspired. I would've personally preferred to just have the song texts there as they seem to be hard to find.

Overall however, this is without doubt Smallman's greatest record so far. Melodious, dynamic, and emotional would be three keywords I'd use to describe the album. I'd highly recommend it to just about anyone who's interested in metal and generally enjoys music with those keywords.