Style: Folk Metal
Release Date: 25 Feb 2019
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Five hours north of Alicante, where Mind Driller play their industrial metal, you'll find the city of Zarogoza which is home to the lively folk metal band Salduie, whose line-up also features multiple dedicated vocalists, albeit in a more usual combination of harsh and clean.
The most obvious difference, beyond subgenres, is that there are a heck of a lot more musicians in Salduie, perhaps partly because they're keen to explore the Celtic side of Iberian history and culture. That means that, in addition to the expected couple of guitarists, bass player and drummer, the band also feature band members playing an array of other instruments and not just at odd moments either.
The title track, which is just a two minute intro reminiscent of Therion and Tristania, includes bagpipes as a lead instrument. They're played by David Serrano, who's also responsible for whistles and dulzaina, a sort of Spanish oboe. Guitarist Victor Felipe also plays the Irish bouzouki and mandolin. Nem Sebastián has wind instruments to play in addition to singing and, whenever a song goes acoustic, Sergio shifts from drums to bodhran.
What impresses isn't that these instruments are in the line up, because this is a folk metal band, but that they're kept so close to the fore. A song like Oestrimnios, for example, spends a minute with folk instruments before metal ones take over. However, there's a flute solo to come and plenty of bagpipes and the whole thing pauses for an acoustic jig in the middle.
As I did with the Mind Driller album, I like the sheer range on display here and, also like that band, it's often a result of the vocals. I have no idea which melodic voice is which here, as there are three singers singing clean, but one of them is of high enough pitch to take the place of a female singer (or do we have a guest here throughout?). Diego Bernia is one of those three but I'm guessing that his isn't the high voice because he also provides the harsh vocals, which are often death metal growls.
It's interesting to hear this band travel seamlessly from the lively Celtic folk of the first half to lands of emphatic death in the second (speaking generally; songs like Diana, la cierva blanca, the last but one, are as folk as the band gets), but it's even more interesting to hear Salduie play both at the same time.
R.T.N.P. is a great example of that. For the first minute, it features airy flutes dancing over dark bass and urgent drums. Bernia's harsh voice changes this to emphatic death before it goes clean again with backing from winds. This to and fro is delightful and very capably handled, even when it goes to extremes: there's another very heavy section at the four minute mark, but it only prompts Salduie to go acoustic again for another energetic dance with flute and drum. Then both approaches play out together as if it's the most natural combination in the world. It's wild and intoxicating stuff.
It's not all folk and/or death though. R.T.N.P. is surrounded by a couple of songs that forgo death for power metal. Viriato does well but Kalakorikos is even better, complete with a spoken word section building to a wild roar of voices. If it wasn't so overtly Celtic, this would be a Viking metal song. I guess it still could be, as the Vikings harried the Celts a lot, but I'm not sure they extended this far south.
This was a fascinating album for me. I recently reviewed a Tuatha de Danann EP from Brazil, which taught me that Celtic isn't just an ethnicity nowadays; it's also a musical sandpit that anyone can play in. Salduie, however, aren't just chiming in with a Spanish take on Celtic; there's actually Celtic blood in the area of Spain known as Celtiberia, even if they stopped speaking their Celtiberian language in the sixth century. I have some reading to do.
I presume this means that there's less of a living tradition here than there is in Galicia, where Mileth explore Galician traditions in Galician. Kudos to Salduie for investigating their heritage and mythology in music and doing it so damn well.