Review Summary: Finally... black metal which is influenced by a story other than The Lord Of The Rings
In metal, it seems that every other band is influenced in some way, shape, or form by The Lord Of The Rings
. We have the obvious (Summoning, Blind Guardian) to the discreet (Burzum, Gorgoroth), each band taking something which was described or named in this trilogy and using it toward lyrical or atmospheric value. It works, yes, largely because of the grand scale of The Lord Of The Rings
and all that takes place in Middle Earth. It is, for lack of a better description, the most epic fantasy tale ever written. There is so much to cover, so much to convey when one is describing or citing The Lord Of The Rings
in their work. This is especially evident in the case of music. However, with so many other excellent works of fiction out there, why haven’t more bands taken in influences them? It may be because of the wide array of fans of The Lord Of The Rings
, or it may be lack of creativity, but when a band does go out there and fetch another influence, it can turn out to be fresh, interesting, and lasting.
Grendel is an Italian black metal band which plays music inspired by the epic poem Beowulf
. Some may recognize the name by the Hollywood movie, but it was originally based off of one of the earliest known English language stories ever written. The story describes a warrior named Beowulf who sails off to a neighboring kingdom in search of a monster who has plagued the kingdom’s great hall, named Heorot. The monster’s name is Grendel, and until Beowulf came, no warrior could find a way to defeat him. This is where Grendel (the band) pick up their first full length album, the aptly titled Beowulf
. The album is very dark, but at the same time insanely epic, like any musical piece based on a fantasy story with battles, magic, and the like.
If you have read the book, then the lyrics and the flow of the album directly correlate with events in the novel. We have Beowulf and Grendel battling, Grendel’s mother slaughtering people in their sleep, and Beowulf seeking revenge. The way the story is told, however, is through a mix of melodic black metal and folk black metal. The intro and outro tracks both feature a mix of folk instruments, and many of the songs contain some really catchy riffing along with beautiful solos. The black metal influences are still highly noticeable, with lots of blast beats, distorted, fast, and simplistic guitar riffs during most of the verses and the traditional vocal arrangement. The heavier tracks, such as “The Mother Of The Orc” and “Middle Age” show this style in its glory, and that alone is decent enough to be passable as a black metal album alone. However, the elements which propel this album from a 2.5 or a 3 to a solid 4 is the instrumentation during the parts where things become harmonized. Some of the riffing is harmonized to give that added effect of melody and uplifting spirit to many of the songs. We have songs like “Of Blood And Glory” which shows these riffing techniques alongside the heaviness which some black metal fans desire, with fast riffs coupled by rolling drum beats which pummel you again and again. On the other side we have the main riff, which is melodic and sometimes harmonized, and the bridge which is solely acoustic guitar before transcending to the insane guitar solo, which is backed by vocals.
It’s this use of guitar solos which I think makes this album truly different. The solos are well produced, placed at exactly the right time, and are epic as hell. The perfect example is in the standout track “Beowulf”, in which the bridge begins with soft acoustic guitar and raspy, growled vocals, before the solo works in with some really intense harmonies and sections which will just make you stop and listen, quite literally breathtaking. It pairs so well with the black metal and is so well executed it just sound natural that the music decides to go in this direction. The vocals, too, make this album different, because they aren’t just your garden-variety black metal screeches alone. There are slow, raspy grunts which often appear during the bridge and the end of songs, the raspy growling which is nearly always present in the verses and chorus, and the odd chanting. The chanting I’m not so sure about, and could have gone without, but it works and ties in with the whole epic poem deal.
The album is sandwiched in between the blandly titled songs “Intro” and “Outro”, which serve as placeholders and transitions to make the album not too awkward at the beginning and not too abrupt at the end. However, the real beauty lies in the middle six tracks, and how they tell the story of Beowulf and his battle against Grendel through music. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to do it, the whole concept of a black metal album to represent this amazing story is the perfect way to sum it all up. Not just any old black metal album either, this is a black metal album laden with melody, soloing, insane drumming, awesome vocals, and an atmosphere to rival any of those Lord Of The Rings
influenced albums. This album was limited to 500 copies, so if you can get your hands on a hard copy, it will be well worth it. For the rest of us, the internet is the only way to experience this unique, original take on storytelling through music.