Review Summary: A more rhythmic, condensed approach to the style of epic black metal played by Summoning and Caladan Brood.
2013 was a good year for Epic Black Metal. The Austrian veterans Summoning finally released a new full length, the Americans Caladan Brood exploded onto the scene, and Emyn Muil also released a debut album. With these three bands being mentioned together quite a but in reviews and press (Caladan Brood and Emyn Muil are both now signed to Northern Silence) I decided that Emyn Muil would be a high priority for me to check out. Upon hearing that this album was getting a limited re-release for the start of the year 2014 I got in contact with Nartum and got my hands on this album. It's a very solid debut for a promising new band.
The album starts with keyboards very similar to the aforementioned Summoning, and the drums (still not sure if it's a drum machine or an electronic kit) also sound very similar to the rudimentary drums of the Austrians, albeit sans the complexity in panned tom rhythms. When the drums and guitars kick in the sound becomes more riff and rhythm oriented, and the vocals are a rhythmic deep chant, this style of rhythmic chanting section is found again in the beginning of "Dark Riots From Angband". The chanting gives way to a more standard black metal style of vocals as the song moves to the next section, and it is this harsh black metal style that dominates the record. Structurally the songs here are fairly straightforward for the genre, melodies are generally contained to their own sections in the structure and do not build on top of one another over several sections. This means that vocal sections are driven much more by the tribal, rhythmic, at times battle-like drums and the guitars riffs than by orchestral keyboard melodies. The song "Gurthang" is a prime example of the tribal rhythmic drumming, and works well to create the atmosphere of an army marching to battle.
A result of segregating melodies and ideas to their own isolated part of the structure is that the songs tend to be shorter and more digestible than those of similar artists. Indeed the closest comparison structurally that I can draw (within this style of music) is the Italians Nazgul. Though the Italians tend to have a more fast paced blast beat style of playing those familiar with them know that melodies are often introduced and then abandoned and never reintroduced. This is a similar case here, which works well for variation and keeping the listener engaged, but does hurt the flow of songs a bit by having less recurring elements that tie everything back together. The melodies themselves are often basic musically, but well thought out, harmonizing cleverly with the underlying chord progressions to create a heroic mood that works well with the rhythmic emphasis of the record.
Production-wise everything is very clean. The drums (which sound electronic / sampled as mentioned before) are very clean and clear. The guitars are fairly distorted but not to the point of being hard to decipher like in the wall of sound approach that black metal bands sometimes employ. The bass, if it is even on this album, is fairly non-existent in the mix, and the low end frequencies are filled with keyboards or low toms / kick drum. The lack of bass is a bit of a disappointment since the guitars often drive the vocal sections and sound a bit thin without a solid bass under them.
Overall the record is well put together for a debut album. The instruments are all written and performed more than competently, and the songs are not repetitive or drawn out. In fact, for newcomers to this style of metal it may be best to start here as the songs are less epic and grand in scope than similar bands. That being said, I think there is room here to develop some of the melodic ideas and motifs further on future releases and perhaps have sections build on top of one another rather than being disjoint from another in the structure. Highly recommended to Summoning, Caladan Brood, Elffor, and Nazgul fans. In regard to the rating, this album is right in between a 3.5 and 4.0 for me, I rounded down because "great" is a bit closer in my opinion than "excellent", take that as you will. Lastly, stay on the lookout for a split planned with Caladan Brood in the future.