Friday 20 October 2023

Poludnica - Poludnica (2023)

Country: Slovakia
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Sep 2023
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There are few things I like more than to discover a new folk metal band and here's one who play in the vein of Bucovina, a favourite of mine, though Poludnica aren't as heavy. They hail from Trenčín, which puts them quite a way from Bucovina because Trenčín is in the far west of Slovakia and Iași the far east of Romania, with a good chunk of Hungary in between. However, both play folk metal in the Balkan style with warm metal under the folk elements. Those are more evident here because they're not only explored in voice and melody but with folk instrumentation, primarily flutes and violins but also a harp.

Those are obvious from the outset, with the flutes of Zuzana Gregušová leading the way, as indeed they do on so many songs. They're a highly prominent instrument here, so much so that there may be as many solo flute sections as on guitars, often with the violins matching the flute melodies. In either case, the backdrop is a little subdued, the riffs certainly there throughout but low enough in the mix that we can almost believe that they're bleeding through from the next studio over, as the soloists and vocalists play in the primary one without walls to suppress them.

That backdrop is utterly reliable, whether it's chugging along at mid-pace, perking up for a song as lively as Medovina to prompt us to dance, even if we're sitting down, or ramping up the tempo for a belter like Slnovrat. However, it's always content to remain in the background, rather like a good friend whose presence elevates the day even if they're not prominent in conversation. The closest the riffing comes to the foreground is Krajiny, or Countries, a plaintive rock ballad, as if the lead is pleading his case, probably to a girl rather than a court, and so the lead elements are toned down. There are also wonderful bass runs on the opener, Za duše padlých, or For the Souls of the Fallen.

The primary lead element is the voice and there are three singers here. The lead for the majority of the album is Anton Chochlik, who sings in a rough but accurate tenor, almost always singing folk melodies rather than rock. The other two are backing singers, though one of them takes more of a prominent role in Medovina, or Mead. That's a lovely and lively song, as the title suggests, and it benefits from more of a female presence at the mike. At various points during other songs, these female voices echo the male, more like co-leads than backing vocalists.

I should mention that all these people work double duty. Chochlik is one of a pair of guitarists with Adrián Perrot, though I don't know how they divvy up lead and rhythm duties. Presumably both do both. The backing vocalists are Gregušová, who also plays the flutes and adds harp, most obviously on the title track, and Martina Oriešková, who also plays violin. It's these three who dominate the album, against that reliable backdrop. The guitarists do get solos, albeit not as many as we expect because they're divvied up with the flutes, and Vladimír Krabáč's bass only claims the spotlight on that opening track.

That leaves the thoroughly reliable Michal Košúth on drums, who perhaps shines brightest on the closer, Slnovrat, or Solstice, which feels celebratory and so gets more ambitious. He starts out fast and then gets interesting, both through fills and odd rhythms. While this is the only track where I found my attention specifically following what he was doing, his work feels effortless, whether he plays fast or slow, steady or intricate.

I'd love to hear more Balkan folk metal, which often feels as authentic as it gets, as their melodies feel old. The Celtic style is appropriately popular but it's also commonplace. More niche folk styles get attention as much for being niche as for being interesting, the Hu being one great example of both. Balkan folk metal sits in between, not as well known or as well heard but still almost seen as a default sound, less worthy of mention by those seeking something new and unusual.

While I may never find a Balkan folk metal album that connects with me as well as Bucovina's first, Ceasul aducerii-aminte, I'm eager to find something that comes close. This doesn't, but it's still an excellent debut and I look forward to the next album from Poludnica, especially now that I see that they've added a bagpipe player to their line-up.

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