Friday, 20 November 2020

Gwydion - Gwydion (2020)

Country: Portugal
Style: Epic Black/Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 13 Nov 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

Now, here's an interesting mix of genres! The band's Facebook page suggests that they play epic/folk metal. Metal Archives calls them a symphonic folk/Viking metal band. In truth, I can hear all of those things and more. Pedro Dias's vocals take a lot of forms here, but one of them is clearly a black metal goblin approach and it's surely the most prominent. Unless there's a string of guests to back him up, I also heard him tackle melodic folk lines, death growls, even a traditional operatic heavy/power metal style, often at the same time. How many singers are on this album?

Certainly everything's epic. The opening track, Stand Alone, begins like the calm before a battle, with martial drums and swirling textured keyboards. It's a very visual intro and the mists are swirling too, perhaps somewhere in the Scottish highlands or the island that is Ireland, back a number of centuries. I see that the band's previous album was all about Vikings, but this is Celtic all the way through, from the band's name on down. After that intro, everything kicks off and we get bloody. Epic metal indeed.

Certainly, symphonic metal makes sense too. The keyboards of Daniel César, the sole band member to have been there at the beginning when Gwydion were founded, are omnipresent and they often take the role of strings. The band are more epic than symphonic and there are no female sopranos joining the fray, except on the final song, A Roda, but the two genres live in the same bucket and, beyond its being acoustic, that song plays well with everything else here.

At their core, though, they're a folk metal band and that's never more overt than in Battle of Alclud Ford. It's fast and frenetic, but it's led by folk melodies and sing-a-long lyrics. At points, it sounds like an Alestorm song but with a variety of different voices. I have no idea if they're all Dias or if the rest of the band are joining in on what is often a sing-along song. Was that Michael Kiske? Was that Bruce Dickinson? I doubt it but someone's trying to be both of them and not doing a bad job of it either. If the goal was to sound like everyone in a pub joining in over their pints, they nailed it. Unsurprisingly enough, Ale Mead and Wine is another drinking song but it features fewer voices and reminds more of Korpiklaani than Alestorm.

I like this music and it's easy to see that Gwydion kind of dig it too. This is their fifth studio album in a quarter of a century, though their debut, Ŷnys Mön, didn't come until a dozen years ago, but it's the first to be self-titled, which is usually a statement. Are they affirming that this is the true identity of the band at last, even though guitarist João Paulo left after recording it? Is it a new beginning or the summing up of their history thus far? It's certainly a generous album, with fourteen songs taking it a way past an hour in length. I never got bored, even across a few listens, but it could have been shorter without losing anything of substance.

Whatever Gwydion feel that it is, it's good stuff, notably varied because of all those voices, and neatly produced by Fernando Matias. I can easily hear Bruno Ezz's bass not because that end of the spectrum is pumped up but because the production is just so clear. I love production when I can listen multiple times and follow different instruments instead of just the vocals and the lead guitar.

I'm enjoying what I'm hearing coming out of Portugal, especially now I'm finding bands other than an excellent array of psychedelic rock outfits. Gwydion are very well established and yet they still have a sound that's not commonplace. I'm thinking of it as a mixture of Cradle of Filth and Korpiklaani, with whatever else they believe ought to add to a particular song, and even a few listens in, that still feels fascinating to me.

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