Monday 14 March 2022

Zaria - Tell the Wind (2022)

Country: Slovenia
Style: Symphonic Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Feb 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

Well, I dived into this album because it claimed to be symphonic folk metal from Slovenia, which is all I need to know, but it's not quite what I got. Sure, Zaria hail from Medvode in Slovenia but this is epic metal to me, a very clean implementation of European power metal led into the fray by an eager spoken word intro. The symphonic angle is clear, because Jerca Starc has quite the operatic range, but the folk aspect is far more elusive. Maybe they were more folk-based with their earlier singer, as Starc joined in 2017 and is the only member here not on their debut album in 2014.

There is folk to be found here but it's limited to a few tracks, usually to their extended intros and a few reprise moments later within them. It's probably no coincidence to realise that these tend to be my favourites. The first of them is Prek meglic preteklosti, which Google translates to Through the Mists of the Past and the flutes that are dominant early get plenty to do later on. To Stealing, Cheating, Fighting and Drinking is lesser but it's still fun and it's definitely one to get all listeners moving, because it would be hard not to buy into its spirit.

The best of the folk-infused songs is surely Gea, which is my choice for highlight, though Dream of a Frozen Dragon comes very close. It's telling that this pair are the longest songs on the album at seven minutes and six and a half respectively, and that they're right at the heart of proceedings, the former wrapping up the first half and the latter kicking off the second. My guess is that it isn't just me who sees these two as the standouts; the band does too, even if they throw the title track at the very end of the album, perhaps deliberately. This album certainly seems carefully framed.

Of course, that leads to its worst aspect. The bookends are narrative tracks, with a cheerful voice backed by sweeping orchestral music. It's almost like we're in a grandiose movie trailer, except it reprises at the end instead of the credits. This narrative isn't annoying, but it is long, the opener almost two minutes and the closer over three and a half, so there are well over five minutes here that aren't devoted to the band doing what they do best. Fortunately, the album clocks in at close to an hour, so they're not skimping on the content. However, on repeat listens, I found myself very happily skipping those bookends entirely and running the album through from Where Adventures Begin to Tell the Wind.

And I have to say that the rest of the album doesn't get old. I find a lot of symphonic metal similar to a degree that I might enjoy an album once, twice or even three times, but get tired of it after a point. While, this one isn't the most original symphonic metal album I've ever heard, it's so clean and so uplifting that it's easy to just lose a day listening to it over and over. It's refreshing, almost a palate cleanser to whatever crap's going on in the world today. Because it stays fresh, the songs deepen with each listen, becoming old friends and gradually standing out from their peers. I may have enjoyed Rok Ražman's bass work late in Ko vstane jutro (When the Morning Rises) on a first listen but it stands out more with every repeat.

Every instrument is clean, making this almost the opposite of the Love/Hate album I reviewed last week, where the band's approach was to dirty every instrument up to be as sleazy as possible. This extends to Jerca Starc's vocals, which are like crystal when she soars dragon-like over the musical landscape her compatriots conjure up behind and beneath her. In fact, her voice is so pure that I'd not be remiss in bringing up Dimash Kudaibergen in comparison and I don't do that lightly at all. I would recommend Dream of a Frozen Dragon if you're into that sort of thing, or V senci Triglava (In the Shadow of Triglav).

And I really need to stop playing this particular album on repeat, sans bookends, because I have a long list of other bands and other albums to catch up with. It's telling that I just don't wanna. This one feels exactly right for today. I'm getting book reviews knocked out nicely and I'm stuffed with free Chinese food. Life is pretty good right now, if as busy as ever, and this is a sonic mirror of that.

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