Friday, April 8, 2016

Steignyr - The Prophecy of the Highlands

Surely it's no secret (courtesy of my personal Top 10 Metal Albums post) that I love me some cheesy folk metal. So imagine my joy when I saw a band described as "Celtic Folk Metal" in this week's New Releases thread on /r/metal. So I went to YouTube, and clicked on the first Steignyr song that came up (Tales of a Forgotten Hero, apparently the title track of their second album). Upon realizing that I own better medieval-y garb than anyone in this band, I decided I had to give their newest release a shot. This is also my first encounter with Steignyr, so this will even be the first album I review with no prior conceptions about the band.

The best way I've come up with to describe Steignyr is that they sound like a less folky Eluveitie with a deeper vocalist. Granted, saying a band is less folky than Eluveitie is like saying a person is less wet when they're not in a swimming pool, because, for crying out loud, Eluveitie has a full-time hurdy-gurdy.

First thing I'll say is that, generally, I enjoyed this album at first. Steignyr doesn't anything particularly special or new. Male harsh vocals plus clean female vocals is an old formula, but they do it very well overall. Otherwise I think the vocals mix with the overall sound very well without getting in the way of the music. Musically, you don't get anything too special out of The Prophecy of the Highlands either. Keyboards are put to good effect throughout, and are mostly responsible for giving the album its folky feel. Though I have to feel like a live performance from this band will rely strongly on pre-recorded backing tracks. Of course, I'm also unlikely to find out, as they're from Barcelona.

Anyway, on to the individual songs. "The Valley of Dragons" has just the kind of deliciously cheesy name I hope for out of folk metal, but unfortunately the tracks immediately following it leave a bit to be desired, and are mostly solid background noise. "Spirit of Victory" stands out the most in a positive sense by virtue of being the song that most does what I think folk metal as a whole tries to accomplish: making the listener feel awesome. The guitar riffs for the opening minute are a damn lot of fun, and the rest of the track is very able to live up to that.

Unfortunately, not much else here is worth noting, which I'd say is the album's biggest weakness. Songs that just grate on me are the only other reason I seem to notice any other tracks on this album. One part that stands out for me is about 3 minutes into "Sons of Earth" where you get a big build up leading to all instruments but the lead guitar cutting out and you expect at least a fun, half-hearted attempt at a guitar solo. Instead, you get what I can only describe as a man with a cast on each hand trying to solo with a poorly tuned guitar and giving up after like six seconds. "Hammer of Agony" has a chorus that just annoys the hell out of me for no rational reason. Backing female vocals are definitely at their worst here, and sound like the backing vocalist forgot to warm up before this studio session. Speaking of bad vocals, avoid the chorus of "Awakening of Revenge," because their vocalist should really just stick to the harsh vocals. Jesus Christ, this guy couldn't find a key in a fucking locksmith's shop.

This album is definitely better the less you listen to it. Over the course of writing this review (which took well over a week, thank you very much grad school), I went from being pretty enthusiastic about this album to having no desire to listen to it again for quite some time, if at all. It's a solid effort, and the production quality is a huge step up over their first studio release, but the more you listen, the more the imperfections stand out, and they more you'll find yourself wishing you were listening to pretty much anything else... except The Astonishing.

Final Verdict: 2.5 iron atoms

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