Thursday 24 November 2022

Mandragora Thuringia - Rex Silvarum (2022)

Country: Germany
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 4 Nov 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

While that multi-syllabic name looks glorious, I presume the band are actually called Mandragora, given that they're from the German state of Thuringia, possibly to delineate themselves from the other Mandragoras out there, in the same way that Wrathchild America are really Wrathchild and Horse London are really Horse. The more complex name still sounds amazing though and I have to say that I adore the cover art to this, their second studio album. Even though they've been around since 2008, they didn't release anything until a 2016 EP and their debut at the full length was Der Vagabund in 2019.

They play folk metal in a few different combinations. Some of these tracks emphasise the folk half of that, with the metal half ditched entirely. Some do the exact opposite, by playing up the metal but minimising the folk angle, often relegating it to a particular section, except for droning pipes that provide a frequent sonic backdrop. Very few songs truly merge the two in the kind of way we expect, perhaps only Trollmelodie fitting that bill throughout.

The purest folk song here is an instrumental at the very heart of the album, called Waldgeflüster, or Forest Whispers. There are flutes here and fiddles and it all feels very pastoral, though there's a little more martial edge to the album's intro, Frühling, which begins affairs with flutes. Much of the pure folk arrives in intros, including to the songs either side of Waldgeflüster, namely the title track and Amygdala, as well as many more throughout the album. The pastoral tone extends to the very names of the songs, which translate to Spring and Autumn, as well as Falcon Flight and Green Sea.

The first song proper, Ausbruch, is mostly metal but it does find a lively folk melody in between its verses and a folk section in the second half. It's an up tempo track eager to live up to its title, that translates to Eruption. Drummer Kone demonstrates quick feet and I found myself wondering how many vocalists are in play. There seem to be two, one delivering German in warm clean tones and the other presumably also German but in a mostly unintelligible goblin-style extreme voice that's at least a little more accessible than Trollmannen of Trollfest. I'm only seeing one vocalist in their line-up, though, so maybe this is all Andor Koppelin. Maybe not.

Falkenflug has a jaunty vibe to it, as if its rooted in music that wants us to dance, but it's more of a metal song than a folk song. Kreaturen der Nacht opens folky but shifts to metal. Koppelin, if it's him, delivers a different vocal again here, one that's chanted more than it's sung and with decent intonation too, if not enunciated so overtly as by someone as theatrical as Till Lindemann. I ought to add that all these vocal styles work, whoever's delivering them. The only time I'd say otherwise is the intro to Sunufatarungo which should be smooth and isn't. Koppelin nails that approach later on Grünes Meer.

While these aren't bad songs, it's the combination of styles that impressed me early on. I wanted more folk in the folk metal, especially after hearing Trollmelodie, but it is there and, the longer I listened, the more it was there in subtle ways. However, the first song that grabbed me on its own merits was the title track, six in, because it nails every aspect that the early songs merely do well at. Waldgeflüster feels a lot like an orchestral folk interlude after that, but it's a fascinating one that I never lose patience with, and then it's on to the second half.

Initially I wondered if if it merely took me a little while to adjust to what Mandragora do, because I wasn't sold on this early on but found myself firmly on board by the second half. However, I'm on a fourth or fifth time through now and I still find the second half stronger than the first. It isn't any different in its sonic recipe, until Trollmelodie, but the songs pop better, the intros are immediate and the folk elements feel a little happier in their setting. I don't know that they're better songs, but they played that way for me, so I'd call out Trollmelodie and Amygdala as my highlights, along with the title track and Waldgeflüster.

I think it does enough to warrant a 7/10, but I argued with myself about that; in the end, I decided that the originality on offer was a fair counter to the lesser tracks. And now I need to seek out the Mandragora debut, because I want to know how their sound is evolving.

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