Monday 17 April 2023

Adavänt - The Mystic and the Mountain (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 Jan 2023
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I automatically threw Adavänt into the opening slot for today on my schedule thinking that they're a local band here in the Valley of the Sun. Sure, they're a damn good one, as I know from a few gigs over the last bunch of years, but that doesn't matter. Then it registered on me that The Mystic and the Mountain is their fourth album. They're not a new up and coming band any more. They're well and truly established and they deserve the top slot for the day.

I have the previous three albums, which are all decent, but this feels like a step up on the previous one, which came out five years ago in the before times. Mystic is a particularly good opener, and I fully expect it to become a set opener for live gigs. It builds in layers, starting with folky guitars on strident percussion, with a lute-like acoustic guitar soon joining them, then a ramp up with electric guitars and full on drums. There's a piano stretch then more drums to add to the existing beat and finally, a minute and a half in, some vocals. It's excellently done but apparently effortless. They're simply this good nowadays.

I should add that there are two vocalists in Adavänt. We hear Nathan the Ravenous first, who has a deep growl that doesn't have much in the way of intonation. It's fundamentally a texture rather than a lead. However, Charlotte the Alluring provides a high and elegant symphonic metal voice. I like her voice on stage but she keeps getting better and she's obviously relishing her sustain now. Later in the song, they both sing at once, not in unison but in contrast, with her soaring traditional metal melodic lines over his low drone. There's no gothic metal in their sound at all, but a beauty and the beast style works in folk metal too.

By the way, I'm not conjuring up nicknames here. Adavänt's musicians name themselves as if they want to become Red Dragon Inn characters and it lends them an easy uniqueness. So that's Justin the Fierce on guitar, Javad the Fearless on drums, Andy the Cunning on piano and keyboards and Ryan the Bard on flute and Irish bouzouki. Previous bassist Corey the Vigorous, who left in 2014, is back. Maybe he didn't think he was quite as vigorous as he turned out to be. [This paragraph has been edited: thanks to Javad the Fearless for updating me on the latest line-up changes.]

And the sound suggests that everyone ought to be vigorous. Folk metal is rooted in folk and folk is rooted in dance and Adavänt know that. Miss Maddie's Forge turns into a jig at one point and War Gnomes follows suit. Feast of Fiends and Pestilencia Swing are dances in the vein of Trollfest, with more of a polka thing going on, thankfully without goblin vocals on top. A Respite Round is always a dance, even when the vocals arrive. I tend to turn myself into a drum when listening to rock and metal, but some bands get me moving in other ways too. Adavänt had me bouncing in my chair on this album. No, I'm not going to get up and dance—I'll trip over something—but I'll happily dance in my chair.

Adavänt have always been tight on stage, at least since I've been paying attention and I first saw them live almost a decade ago, supporting Alestorm. However, they feel extra tight here and the breakdowns in many of these songs are exquisite. Most of the band will just stop on a dime to give one instrument a spotlight moment but, phrase delivered, they kick back in on the same dime. It's there right from the outset on Mystic and it keeps going. This isn't always keyboards, but Andy the Cunning does get a few spots. I have to call him out for his Hammond organ halfway through Lunar Cutlass, but the piano midway through Pestilencia Swing is gorgeous too.

The other technical touch I noticed here that I don't specifically remember from earlier albums, so should go back to check, is that there's some serious style to how they begin their songs. Some are pretty obvious in their intros, like the chimes that set up the mood on Miss Maddie's Forge, albeit very effectively, but some of it's just clever songwriting. There's a sweet opening to Lunar Cutlass that turns into a delightfully ominous build, with some flutes bringing some light to that darkness. Feast of Fiends kicks off with the inexorable monster march beat of Trollfest and that runs on into Pestilencia Swing.

The good news is that there are a lot of positives this time out o nwhat I believe is their strongest album to date. The better news is that there isn't much negative to counter that. I'm not entirely sold on the drum sound. It didn't bother me particularly but some of the drums sounded muffled to me on Mystic and on some later songs too. I can't pretend that Nathan the Ravenous's voice is remotely as versatile as Charlotte the Alluring's, but he works as a texture. Beyond that, with so many highlights, it seems a little more obvious than it should that a few songs don't match them, but that's far from the worst problem a band can have though.

And so I need to stop thinking of Adavänt as a local band who support the big fish when they come to town. I need to start thinking of them as a damn good folk metal band who have been playing a decade and a half now and put out four decent albums that keep on getting better. Let's see some folk come to town to support them.

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