Tuesday 10 January 2023

Concrete Age - Bardo Thodol (2023)

Country: Russia
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 6 Jan 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | VK

This is the eighth album by Concrete Age, founded in the very southwest of Russia, in Mineralnye Vody just north of the Georgian Border, in between the Black and Caspian Seas, but resident since 2014 in London, England. I found it listed as melodic death metal and Metal Archives have thrash and power metal tags as well. There's not much power metal on this album, though True Believer wraps up in that vein, but there's plenty of thrash metal on the faster songs like Hex, Lullaby for a Deadman and Ridges of Suffering, downtuned into an overtly death metal pitch and accompanied by harsher vocals than are the thrash norm.

All of that said, though, I'd call this folk metal as much as any of those and I see on the band's own website that they describe themselves as "ethnic death/thrash metal". That rings quickly true, as does the mission statement, that "our project is based on different ancient cultures from all over the world. During our live performance, we use ethnic instruments and mix them with metal." I'm not seeing what those instruments are on this album, but I'd love to know.

Hex opens up the album with ethnic chanting and that vibe doesn't entirely leave when the intro ends, even if it does for a while. There are folk melodies underpinning everything, which become a little more obvious when the band drop away from the crunch for effect and we're treated to clear ethnic sections. Many of these sections feel middle eastern but even more feel Eastern European and it isn't too much of a shock to discover that this is a truly international band. Ilia Morozov, the only founder member remaining, is Russian, but Boris Zahariev is Bulgarian, while Giovanni Ruiu and Davide Marina, who may or may not still be in the band, are both Italian.

Early on, the focus is on that downtuned thrash sound, with ethnic intros and drops away into that side of the band's sound for effect, but the second half of Purity is pure folk metal, unfolding like a heavy and frantic jig, the sort of thing that Gogol Bordello might jam on amphetamines. It's wild and jaunty and it's thoroughly engaging. It's hard not to move to it, even if sometimes we feel like snakes being charmed. By True Believer, that folk metal vibe becomes inherent, almost impossible to separate from the thrash/death sound. That this is the song that ends up as power metal is wild and one reason why it's my pick for best song, even if it isn't a clearcut choice.

And, as much as this old thrash hound dug the faster, thrashier sections in songs like True Believer, and Morozov does spit out the vocals with a neatly harsh growl, I found the bouncy folk sections so irresistible that they became the focus for me. Is that a call to prayer halfway through? It ought to fit the title. Is that a jig or a Cossack dance in the second half of Threads of Fate, when it gets even more lively than usual? Certainy, Trite Puti is as folk metal as it gets, a two minute interlude that's right up there with the songs proper on this album. Thunderland approaches the Hu in emphasis.

And so it goes, moving more and more into folk metal as it runs on, with the title track another of a bunch of highlights. It's folk metal from the outset, courtesy of a middle eastern riff, as crunchy as it is, and it never really loses the folk metal, even when it gets its head down and enters furious mode for a while. That riff gets, well, riffed on during the midsection, and we're right back in that Gogol Bordello territory, maybe a little further south but still Balkan. It's riotous and a whole heck of a lot of fun, which was something I didn't expect.

I wonder how they came to this sound and how recently. Given that it's most overt in the guitars, I wonder if it's been there all along with Morozov, who's one of the guitarists in addition to singing lead, or whether it arrived with Zahariev on the other guitar. It's there in their mission statement on their website, but hasn't been reflected in third party informational sites, suggesting that it's a newer approach for them.

Clearly I should check out their earlier albums, which have come thick and fast. Their debut, Time to Awake, came out in 2012 and they've never gone more than a couple of years between albums until now with COVID the likely reason. It's been three since Spirituality in 2020. I do like finding new favourite bands right at the beginning of a new year.

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