Chance discoveries, I find, are often the best way of unearthing new music, and so having decided to catch Andraste playing an acoustic live set at Bloodstock Open Air 2012, (which, I might add was well worth the effort and a highlight of the festival) and having been sent their debut album for review since, I was intrigued to see how my opinion of them recorded would fare in comparison to seeing them live. Fortuntely positively! An impressively professional-looking self-released CD, with digipak packing, great inlay with full lyrics and fantastic artwork, this is one slick package, and clearly one that they have put a great deal of effort and thought into.
And so onto the music. Folk metal within its remit can be a varied genre, and can encompass all manner of different subtle stylistic nuances, and herein lies one of the main attractions with Andraste’s style, in that they manage to skilfully weave in a number of clear influences, from traditional folk metal to leanings towards blast beats akin to Swedish melodic death metal; from gravelly growled lead vocals to beautiful clean-sung multi-part vocal harmony, and not forgetting the more than accomplished whistle playing and unusually (for folk metal) classical violin lines, all with a quintessentially British folky feel! Now this might sound in words like they’re trying to cram five pints into a single pint tankard, running the risk of sounding messy and try-hard, but such is the apparent compositional prowess of the band, that every single musical aspect of the release fits together and moves and winds along absolutely seamlessly, with enough subtle stylistic meanderings to keep your attention hooked from start to finish. Rather than adopting the ethereal atmospheric first track on a release that many folk metal bands do, ‘Jotunheim’ provides a blast-beat and riff-ridden hefty slab of upbeat folk to introduce you to the quintet’s debut album, before easing off a little into the Secret Valley trilogy of tracks, including the addition of some beautiful classical violin from their session (and live) violinist in ‘Haelmwind’ which fits perfectly within the track.
One of my bugbears with some of the lesser known, usually British or Irish folk metal bands, is the inclusion of truly god-awful, abysmally poorly played tin whistle. But fear not, Andraste have this aspect well untruly in the bag, with Coll, the bands whistle (and mandola) player being a whistle player of high technicality. Combining this with awesome drumming and intriguingly hooky bass lines, ‘The Secret Valley’ is an aural joy to behold, especially the excellent mid-album ‘The Enchantress’, with not one filler-track in sight and each song taking you on a journey. And whilst the mixing and mastering (again, done by the band themselves) isn’t perfectly clear in certain places (well, mainly the drums to be honest and the occasional guitar part), a few listens on, I think this actually adds something positive to the recording as it feels more visceral, raw and earthy and suited to their style. The only minor negative point is that the final track, ‘Unholy Unnamed’ (which I still amuse myself with as I keep mishearing “midnight approaches, ravens fly past my grave” as “ravens fly past my granny”.. I’m easily amused), whilst in itself is a great track, as an ending track, I feel after every listen to the album like there should be something else after it, and feel like it ends on a bit of a cliff-edge. Mind you, this might be purely the intention that’s desired as after my “oh, is that it?”, I then promptly press play again to have another listen.. clever trick that! Without a doubt, a unique band deserving of more attention and a credit to the British folk metal scene.
THE SECRET VALLEY
Review by Hannah Sylvester
10th Sept 2011
2) The Secret Valley Part 1: Shield Ring
3) The Secret Valley Part 2: Haelmwind
4) The Secret Balley Part 3: Honour In This
5) The Enchantress
6) Black Birds of Carrion
7) Forsaken Warrior
8) Realm of the Supernatural
9) Sail Out, Fly Away or The Untender Mutineer
10) Unholy Unnamed
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Without a doubt, a unique band deserving of more attention and a credit to the British folk metal scene."