I'm not sure what I expected from this album, which came to me labelled as folk rock, but it isn't at all what I heard and I wonder if what I read is simply out of date. Andaja hail from Lithuania and it seems that they used to play pagan metal in the noughties, active from 2009 to 2009 with an album to their name in 2006, Iš atminties. When they got back together in 2013, they shifted to Baltic folk rock, as evidenced by a second album, Atvaras, in 2017. And that's where the notes end, but this is a lot closer to pagan metal than folk rock to my way of thinking. Maybe they've shifted back to their original style.
It's obviously metal as much as it is rock, because of how it sounds, some songs dropping down to a calmer vibe but many powering ahead with emphasis. I found it just as obviously pagan, perhaps a little because Daiva Pelėdaitė reminds me of Candia Ridley of Inkubus Sukkubus, merely with a far heavier, crunchier backdrop behind her and a real drumkit, a backdrop more reminiscent of bands like Romania's Bucovina, especially on the heavier songs. The melodies are certainly similar and it doesn't surprise that they're both rooted in the folk music of eastern Europe, but I caught a more ritual element to Andaja, especially on tracks like Pieno upės.
I like that crunchy backdrop, especially given how much ground it explores, but Pelėdaitė is easily the highlight of the album for me. Their Bandcamp page says that "a brave female vocal flutters like a flag" and I get all that except for one word. There's a stubbornness to her voice that seems very much like victory in the face of adversity, so the flag and bravery aspects work really well. It's a strong voice that both commands and perseveres, and I easily imagined her leading her troops into battle on songs like Medžiojma and winning the day, as underlined by the galloping beats late on. What I don't hear is the fluttering, because this there's no fragility or hesitation in this voice, even on quieter songs. There's power even in her speaking voice, which opens Giesmė iš vandens.
That Bandcamp page also suggests that there are very few female vocalists in Lithuanian metal, a state of affairs I can't speak to. However, if that's true, I hope that others will listen to her clarion call and join the fray, because she's blazing a powerful trail here and I'm eager to see what voices make themselves heard in response. There are two other musicians in the band proper, Ričardas Matyženok on bass and Mantas Galinis on drums. Pelėdaitė also contributes piano and keyboards, which leaves the guitarwork to a guest, Karolis Lapėnis, of Lithuanian death metal band Gilzeh.
My favourite songs come early, after the album's warmed up. Perkūno sutuoktinė is pagan folk but Šilko siūlai heavies proceedings up with style. Then it's Medžiojma and Pieno upės, which are both highlights for me, the former more of a stormer and the latter more versatile but equally strong. After those, and the fantastic opening to Dangaus kalvis, all whispers and chimes and one note on the bass repeated with increasing emphasis, the album slid away from me a little, grabbing me on every listen with Giesmė iš vandens and its prowling bass and commanding vocal.
It ends strong too, with interesting sounds echoing through Slogi, which also builds magnificently, and another dominant performance from Pelėdaitė on Velnio vestuvės, where she teases us early before reasserting total control. The instruments behind her tease too and the song interrupts a strong build to tease us all the more. While Pelėdaitė owns this one, not so much singing lyrics as hurling out commands to us, Matyženok's bass is notable early and Lapėnis's riffs are excellent. It may well be the third highlight for me, above Giesmė iš vandens.
Now, I need to figure out where Andaja are going, because it doesn't seem to be where the notes I'm reading state or indeed where the cover art suggests. That's a post-rock cover if ever I've seen one, promising ethereal soundscapes built from electronics, precisely none of which happen to be in the music. This is folk metal to me, likely the pagan metal Andija started out playing, though I'm trusting my instincts there rather than any understanding of Lithuanian lyrics. And they certainly feel like they mean it. Even if they're relying on a guest guitarist right now, this feels like a band I expect to knock out albums every couple of years because they have a mission.