I'm back in Italy again, it seems, this time in Trento in the south Tyrol for a folk metal album from Servan, who are debuting here in a rather schizophrenic fashion. I'm still trying to figure out quite what they're trying to do, because it seems to be two completely different things and one tends to cancel out the other.
Some of the time, they're a serious folk metal band. The evocative intro points the way, with flutes delivering plaintive melodies around bubbling brooks. Then it kicks in hard and fast, as Tiki Land is eager to convince us that Servan are a tasty mix of folk and death and thrash. There's a rough but not too harsh vocal and a separate clean vocal, so there's contrast and variety there, even before we factor in the constant contrast between chugging riffs and dancing flutes. The Forest continues in much the same vein, slower but with the same effect. It's good stuff.
But then The Goblins shows up and we realise that Servan, after they do a quick change into their superhero outfits, also make cartoon theme tunes. At least, that's the impression I got here, that flute playing a Pied Piper role as it leads a procession of goblins. Don't get me wrong, this is done well, like a more accessible Trollfest, only one reason why I immediately saw it animated, all those goblins walking in step, single file, with that odd skip that cartoon characters have to have. But it's not remotely serious and damn, it's catchy.
If The Goblins was the only example of this, then it would just have been a prominent track and we could get back to enjoying the serious stuff. However, it's not. This quirky, extra bouncy, animated processional music with cartoon goblin vocals shows back in Lovegati, only two songs later and on others as the album runs on. It's not the entire song this time but it's enough of it to matter and I can't help but feel sorry for Ode Agli Elementi. What's that, you say?
Well, it's the track in between those two. Listen to it in isolation and you'll see it as the decent folk metal song that it is. Listen to it on this album in between The Goblins and Lovegati and you'll lose track of the fact that it exists. There's nothing wrong with it, except that it's in the wrong place at the wrong time and it's hard to focus on flute melodies or guitar solos when we're focused instead on bouncing animated goblins. If The Goblins is the theme tune and Lovegati is the first episode, I guess that means Ode Agli Elementi is the first commercial break and that's not enviable.
After these two, I struggled with the album while appreciating both sides of the band's music. It's not that one angle is inherently more worthy than the other. It's simply that one overwhelms the other when they're alternated on the same album. The best songs, I feel, are the ones that play it seriously, avoiding that cartoon mindset, but keep the extra-bouncy melodies. Conjurers does that and, to a large degree, so does Drunk Troll. That title so obviously tells us it's going to be silly that it's almost a shock when the song isn't. These are more serious songs but you just won't be able to listen to something like Conjurers or the flute solo late in The Last Battle without your toes taking on a life of their own, tapping away like a lunatic.
It's probably fair to say that this is a problem now but potentially not down the road. Servan are a new band on their debut album. They're probably new to us and we don't have years invested into their sound. Ten years and four albums from now, we might expect this and appreciate both sides for the quality music they are. We might even cherish them for it, like we cherish Bad Brains for a career in hardcore punk that just shifts into reggae at points for no discernible reason. Right now, it's harder to do that, so let's see how they're received. There's some serious talent on display. I'm looking forward to watching them grow into themselves.