Wednesday 17 November 2021

Nidhoeggr - Arise (2021)

Country: Switzerland
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Oct 2021
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I'm not entirely convinced by Nidhoeggr's approach to folk metal, because the music is as lively as you expect from the genre, if downtuned a little, but the vocals are primarily harsh, which makes for an odd contrast. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and I did find a charm in songs like Twilight Zone moving between folk/death and lively jigs. I'd definitely be down the front at one of their gigs, policing the pit, and getting into the spirit of the gig, especially during the folkier bits, but I also wish that there were more of them, even I got used to the approach and came to appreciate it.

Certainly, it's those folkier bits that grabbed me here and they start early in The Journey, which is the first song proper. The vocal sections are lively, I guess, but they're a lot less lively than any of the instrumental sections in between. Then the band really kick their feet up and we heed the call to dance, even if we can't. And, if that holds through the parts using only traditional instruments, it holds double when they bring in what sound like accordions but may well be the work of synths.

I always look for exotic instrumentation on folk metal albums and I'm not sure there is any here in truth, but it sometimes sounds like there is. Onwards kicks off with harpsichord, even if it's really synths, then adds an odd bouncy sound to the background that reminds of dance music. It's quite a neat addition actually, even though I've probably just made it sound like it shouldn't be. I like it in this song and on Winters Wight later on. I also like the various other neat additions that show up across the album, but more about that later.

The other thing I liked here a lot was the occasion venture across genre boundaries. Maybe I'd see the harpsichord as a nod towards goth (as with the violin on Winters Wight), but Onwards isn't a gothic metal song. However, Scorched Earth kicks in very much like a psychobilly song and I could totally picture a bearded metalhead's fingers running up and down the strings on his double bass, even if that wasn't happening in truth and the instrumentation was traditional. It sounds unusual but cool and I dig this song a lot.

The most frequent border that Nidhoeggr cross is the one from folk metal into Viking metal. Rise and Fall isn't the first shift across that border—it's there from the outset in The Journey—but it's surely the most overt. And I think this works very well indeed, because of Janos Thomann's harsh vocals. They may not be my preference for a folk metal album but they work really well on a Viking metal album and, when the two genres merge on songs like Twilight Zone, it all sounds great. The Viking/death angle does threaten to overwhelm the folk but the folk battles back valiantly and it ends up being perhaps my favourite song here.

And that also means that my favourite three songs are all next to each other on this album, three very different songs in slots four, five and six. It's a decent album before them and it stays decent after that with those neat additions to each song I mentioned earlier to elevate it, from the organ intro to Mighty Willow to the basswork of Thibault Schmidt early in Desolation, never forgetting little piano touches from Lorenz Joss that often go by unnoticed on a first listen but leap out to be noticed on further runs through. However, none of these other songs quite challenges those three as the first half becomes the second. At least not yet. I'm liking this more with each listen so I may not be done with it yet.

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