Country: Costa Rica
Style: Folk Rock/Metal
Release Date: 16 Mar 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube
If Külmking resisted their folk metal leanings, Abäk embrace them, defining themselves and their goals as "a cultural rock project that seeks to spread different branches of Costa Rican culture through music." Their songs stem from the myths, history and literature of their native country. I'd go with folk rock rather than folk metal because, while there are certainly places where the guitars speed up and rock out, they're always kept low in the mix and the result feels like rock music that gets more energetic when it feels the need. And whatever we call it, I like it a lot.
Clearly Abäk aren't a small band, photos suggesting ten members, and that's before we factor in four guest musicians, including Jose Macheño from the Spanish folk metal band Lándevir. Sadly, I'm unable to find anything to tell me who's in Abäk and what they do in the band. So let's just say that there are a few vocalists, all of whom sing clean, whether rough male or crystal clear female. There are at least two guitars, along with a bass and various drums. There are certainly flutes involved and a fiddle too.
The opener, La Bruja Zárate, starts off as the band mean to go on. There's a minute and a half of pure folk: acoustic guitars, a hand drum and vocals. At that point, it leaps into eighties heavy metal, continuing with clean vocals but now with a drumkit and electric guitars clearly influenced by early Iron Maiden. Even the sound fits because the guitar is much lower in the mix than a metal band would place it nowadays. By the three minute mark, though, the metal calms down a little and a soaring female voice duets with the guitar, not singing words but just sounds à la Yma Sumac. She eventually sings words but with a folk chant behind her and we're back to the beginning.
I was sold on the album just from that one song, but there are six more and they continue to be interesting. Iriria adds flutes and a punk vibe, without losing the metal guitar solo in the middle. This is a wild mix but one that works really well. It's folk, it's rock, it's punk, it's metal. And the rest of the album continues to mix these genres up in different combinations, as if everyone does it and it's the most natural thing in the world. This is probably my favourite song on the album.
Luna Roja is a folk duet between emotional male and female voices. Guerrera features an oddly strident female vocal, given the others we've heard thus far. Santa Rosa is a metal song built on a military beat. Conquistador gives the bass player plenty of time in the spotlight. The title track brings in the fiddle, which adds an elegance to proceedings that's echoed by the lead male voice. It's also the longest of the tracks by far, running almost ten minutes, and it grows perhaps the most, hauling us along quite the journey before wrapping up with flutes and birdsong.
I'd love to know more about Abäk. Is this some sort of musical collective? I can't imagine that all ten band members appear on every track, especially as the vocals seem to vary considerably across the album. I believe this is the second studio release for them, following a concept album, El Tambor de Sibö in 2018, which I'm eager to check out now. Whoever does what and how often, I enjoyed this a great deal, as I have most of the South American folk metal that I've found of late, bands like Curare, Herteitr and Tuatha de Danann.