Monday 18 May 2020

In Extremo - Kompass zur Sonne (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: Medieval/Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 8 May 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | VK | Wikipedia | YouTube

The last "medieval metal" band I reviewed, Cantus Levitas, are from Germany, and so's this band, because it's a big genre there. In Extremo weren't the first such band, as they were preceded by both Corvus Corax and Subway to Sally, but they've been around for a quarter of a century now and I'm a little shocked that I haven't noticed them until now.

While they started out with acoustic albums, this is high energy folk metal kind of like your favourite Renaissance Faire troupe covered by Rammstein. I remember the Mediæval Bæbes doing a great version of Salva Nos but it didn't sound remotely like the one here. I have no idea how many of these songs are originals and how many centuries old compositions, but it's telling that, if it's a wild combination of both, they fit very well together here.

Maybe I need to dive deeper into the languages used, because while it might seem that the songs are all in German, they likely span a slew of languages. According to Wikipedia, In Extremo have sung in at least sixteen others and not just the obvious ones like English, Latin and French, but others that I haven't even heard of like Ladino and Occitan, not to mention Old High and Middle High German. Salva Nos certainly isn't in German, being in Latin.

Similarly, they also play a wild range of exotic instruments in addition to those you might expect from a metal band. I'm not unversed in folk music so I'm well aware of citterns, hurdy-gurdys and shawms. However, lead vocalist Michael Rhein, usually known as the Last Unicorn, also plays darbuka, davul and binioù, amongst others, and I had to explore Wikipedia to find out what they are. The former two are drums and the latter is a bagpipe.

The early songs here are powerful folk metal songs with strong melodies and they're drive by Florian Speckardt's decidely not mediaeval drumkit and the crunchy metal guitars of Rhein and Sebastian Lange, but with bagpipes alive behind them. There are currently seven members of In Extremo, four at least  playing Germany bagpipes and those of other countries. The first two songs are fantastic, Troja and the title track, but Lügenpack and Gogiya upstage them both.

Both up the energy levels even more, especially the latter. There's a lot of gypsy punk in here and I wasn't too shocked to find that Napalm labelmates Russkaja, who guest on Gogiya, are a Viennese band who describe what they do as "Russian turbo polka metal". Salva Nos is energetic too, if not to those degrees, but it's also the only song I knew before listening to this album, so it stood out for me alongside them.

Not everything is this up tempo, because it would be a wild album indeed if it was, and the songs that slow down and allow us to catch our breaths don't catch my heart in the same way. Biersegen comes really close but high energy just isn't everything that In Extremo do and there's a lot more to be found on this album.

Schenk nochmal ein gets neatly plaintive and Saigon und Bagdad gets quirky. Narrenschiff has a catchy backing chant of a vocal and Wer kann segeln ohne Wind features a severe but still beautiful harp, as well as a deep and dark guest vocal from Amon Amarth's Johan Hegg. Reiht euch ein ihr Lumpen has a Celtic groove to it, even though it's in German, and there's throat singing to kick off Biersegen.

In short, there's a lot here to enjoy and there's a lot behind it too, given that this is their twelfth studio album, four with this line-up. Discovery is a wonderful thing.

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