Ten Years #20: Equilibrium


Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
20. Equilibrium (1,323 plays)
Top track (104 plays): Prolog Auf Erden, from Sagas (2008)

At the end of 2008, I made the peculiar decision to rank Sagas only 6th on my albums of the year list. I knew at the time that it would long outlive the albums that trumped it–The Tallest Man on Earth’s Shallow Grave, Boris’s Smile, Waylander’s Honour Amongst Chaos to name a few–but I suppose I was prioritizing some sort of artsy aesthetic over direct appeal. That was silly. Sagas is the most badass, epic 80 minutes of sound you will ever hear, and it deserves all the glory. Since I don’t know German, I can’t really judge how the lyrics hold up against comparable masterpieces like Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth and Turisas’s The Varangian Way, but musically it pretty much perfects every epic/symphonic trend in the world of folk metal. What you hear on the opening track, “Prolog Auf Erden”, is a pretty accurate summary of the full album; it’s an explosive, relentless drive through one of the most imaginative worlds metal has ever conjured.

I can’t say I am terribly experienced in Equilibrium’s broader discography. Turis Fratyr (2005) did not grab me quite so immediately, and at the time I was too caught up in enjoying Sagas to really engage it. Rekreatur (2010) had its merits, but I could never fully get over the change in vocalists from Helge Stang to Robert Dahn. Never a band to rush out the new releases, their fourth studio album is not expected until some time in 2014.

AMV of the Day: Affective Schoolgirls (Nichijou)


Nichijou

Latest “AMV of the Day” is one that dodges any way to describe it.

“Affective Schoolgirls” is an amalgam of two very different styles of entertainment. Two styles that I’ve learned to enjoy and appreciate through the years. What this video has done is combine something akin to peanut butter and jelly. The slapstick comedy and slice of life anime series Nichijou provides the peanut butter while the song “Snüffel” by Equilibrium provides the jelly.

If one who watches this video thinks they have no idea what’s going on then they’ve come to an understanding of what Nichijou as an anime is all about. It is an anime series about chaos distilled. What better way to point this out than to pair it up with some German symphonic black metal.

Anime: Nichijou

Song: “Snüffel” by Equilibrium

Creator: seriy

Past AMVs of the Day

Review: Nekrogoblikon – Stench


Up until late July, Nekrogoblikon were a nearly forgotten gimmick. Their first and only previous album, Goblin Island, was released in 2006, and that was the last I ever heard of them. Aside from telling the story of an extra-terrestrial goblin invasion of the most heinous sort (they even ruin Christmas), it featured, among other things, sound clips of the band screaming like little girls, an actual stereotypical Christmas song, a cover of In Flames’ Artifacts of the Black Rain with all the lyrics substituted for banter about goblins, and a dance beat chiptune outro. Musically, it was simultaneously a mockery of a lot of the bands that probably influenced them and a pretty decent, enjoyable imitation of them. But it was never funny in say, a GWAR or Alestorm sort of way. It was more like a Weird Al thing–a novelty. You laugh, but you really don’t want your friends to know you listen to it, and you never play through it twice in a row.


Goblin Box

Their new album is a very different beast. Over the past five years they’ve actually matured into really good song-writers. Don’t get me wrong, Goblin Island had some really catchy tracks, but in the music just as in the lyrics there was a sort of audible immaturity, by design of course, that made light of the bands they were imitating. On Stench this notion is more internal. That is, they’re still parodying Children of Bodom, Finntroll, and just about anything in between, but instead of hearing a bunch of kids making a joke you hear a bunch of goblins being goblins. The immaturity is no longer in the execution; it’s encased in really solid music that, given better production value, could rival many of the very same albums it pokes and prods.

Basically, on Stench the line between a musical parody and a successful cross-genre epic metal masterpiece is very grey indeed. Yet the lyrics are just as blatantly whimsical as ever. The result is hard to swallow, because it’s so good and so bad at the same time. I imagine the spoken ending of this song is a rip on Rhapsody of Fire’s infamously lame spoken lines; it goes approximately “The humans had opened the box to torture and maim all kinds of magical creatures, but the goblins were not to be trifled with. No, not to be trifled with at all. And as the humans laid there, a pulsating mound of bone and flesh, dead and mutilated beyond all hope and reason, the goblins feasted upon their rotting corpses, filling the halls with the shrill sound of chilling laughter….. Forever!” And yet when you listen to it, beneath the cheese you get the feeling that it’s a really badass ending.

It took quite a while for me to get sufficiently passed the fact that it’s a parody to enjoy it in its own right. That was Stench’s initial impact: a part of me was left feeling like I’d been cheated out of something awesome on par with Ensiferum and Equilibrium, but the more I listened to it the more I wanted to click repeat, plant my hand firmly in the center of my face, and grin from ear to ear underneath it. At this point I can safely say I love it unconditionally.


Gallows & Graves

There’s something of a third dynamic going on here as well, and it’s what really tips the scale towards greatness. In some odd capacity this really is, well, goblin metal. If we think of them as those short, mischievous little tinkers that are a good bit like gnomes with the added plus of being spawns of Satan, you can actually hear something of this in the music. Goblins ARE both comical and evil, and while Goblin Island was too much of a joke (albeit a good one) to capture this, Stench pulls it off. Trolls and vikings and pirates have all acquired a sort of musical imagery, much of which isn’t meant to be taken entirely seriously. The idea of a goblin is a good deal less serious than all of those to begin with, and if I was going to “seriously” create a metal sound to capture them, well, Stench seems pretty on the mark. The frantic intro/chorus melody of Gallows & Graves and the kind of childish clear vocals really do call to mind some small, obnoxious, vicious little bugger hopping around your feet, and this same musical imagery reoccurs throughout Stench with a consistency that Goblin Island lacked.


A Feast

It’s really hard to talk about what Nekrogoblikon “accomplished” on this album with a straight face, but the fact of the matter is Stench is really damn good. They manage to successfully combine elements of more metal sub-genres than I can count. It’s also got the clever bonus of thematically justifying all of its potential negatives. Goblins are as obnoxious as they are evil, right, so if they’re mocking a bunch of their metal predecessors musically it’s only natural. This is goblin metal.

Review: Moonsorrow – Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa


A few months ago I placed this album in my top 5 of 2011 so far, but I really didn’t have much to say about it. Despite having listened to ample amounts of this band over the years, I really am still in no position to thoroughly compare it to their past works (though I’ll certainly try). Moonsorrow has always been a band I’ve listened to in passing–something I put on for the mood it sets, not to appreciate its intricacies. In this sense Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa is no different. But in the span of just, what, six months, I’ve listened to it more than all of their other albums combined since I first heard about them. So it’s got to have something special going for it.

Tähdetön

The first thing that makes Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa so effective is showcased in the first minute of the opening song. That deep, crushing guitar tone that kicks it off doesn’t lose the spotlight until at least half way through the album, and it’s never abandoned completely. A quick skip through their larger discography tells me this is something fairly new. It’s not their first album to be largely driven by guitar chords, but I’ve found nothing as deep, encompassing, or persistent as this. The result is a fuller sound that keeps me connected as the surrounding styles vary. Tähdetön might move over time from something grim to something sweeping and beautiful, but a thread connects it all. The opening song doesn’t transition in the same sense as their previous works; it follows a steady progression.

Huuto (first 15 minutes)

The folk elements of the album are also worth noting. If a bit less authentic in feel than they used to be, they’re far more in touch with the music that surrounds them. I can’t help but think of Equilibrium’s Sagas throughout Huuto, and to a lesser extent on the other three tracks as well. You’ll find little in the raw here; it’s typically encased in or entirely consistent of dreamy keyboards that feel more fantasy than folk. This isn’t something entirely new for the band. They’ve always been pretty synth-heavy. But I don’t think you’ll find a parallel to Huuto’s intro on their past albums. I think it would have started out with just an acoustic guitar and the keyboards would have entered along with the distortion, or else would have been more of a drone than a dreamy accompaniment. Just like the intro to Tähdetön gives you a distinct example of what has changed on this album metal-wise, the intro to Huuto shows their new approach to folk. The keyboards and traditional sounds are inseparably fused, not two distinct elements of the band.

The third great thing for me is that they’ve returned to writing reasonably short songs. Their last couple releases have been made up predominantly of 30+ minute marathons that are hard to engage from start to finish. The longest song on Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa is sixteen minutes. I have the option to single out a song once in a while and really get into it from start to finish, making each track a bit easier to appreciate.

Kuolleiden Maa (first 10 minutes)

A lot of what I’ve said about this album doesn’t really apply to the final song, Kuolleiden Maa, which is a fourth of the entire album. It is decidedly darker, and the only track that can really be described as black metal. It’s just as enormous as the rest of Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa, but the feel is very different. That it’s my least favorite track should be no slight against it; it probably sounds more like what you would have expected on a new Moonsorrow album than any of the others. And it’s well placed to not disrupt the rest of the album. The three generally upbeat tracks come packaged together before the bleak conclusion. It also ends where the first track begins (though this sample doesn’t get that far into it), making the whole album very repeatable. The annoying bit of static you hear on the left in this sample is the product of youtube, by the way, and not something to worry about on the album proper.

In short, everything about Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa feels bigger, more surreal, and all around more engaging than their past works. It has an incredibly dark ending, but I’d also say it’s all in all more happy and optimistic than their past works–something that certainly appeals to me when I’m in the mood for folk metal. As quintessentially Moonsorrow as it may be, it’s a definite step in a new direction, and the result is my favorite release by them to date. I didn’t actually sample my favorite track here. That would be Muinaiset. But all four feature songs (the rest are short intro/outro/transition tracks) are superb, and you’re definitely missing out if you don’t pick this one up.