Review Summary: Even if it is a little too close to their influences for comfort, Gwynbleidd manages to craft an excellent 40 minute EP that flows between Folk, Death and even Black Metal with apparent ease.
The progressive metal condition poses one major question:
Do progressive metal bands set out to create their own sound and accidentally rip off Opeth in the process, or is ripping off Opeth the goal from the get-go?
To be honest, I don't have an answer. What I do know, however, is that even if Gwynbleidd do sound quite a bit like Opeth, they're certainly more than a cheap American knock-off.
Gwynbleidd instantly tries to set themselves apart by having a more or less ridiculous band name. Pronounced (at least by me) “Gwyn-Bleyed”, they've come up with a name that seems like the result of a keyboard explosion. But I'm really not giving these guys enough credit. For an “EP”, this is a pretty ambitious effort.
Note the quotations on “EP”. Let me explain. In short
, this album is forty minutes long
, so by my standards it could very well pass as a full length recording. But its EP status involves more than length, as rather than simply serving as a teaser like one would assume, it comes off as more of a blueprint than anything, but we'll get there later.
To get it out of the way, the Opeth comparisons these guys are getting are definitely valid. Much like Mikael Akerfelt & co, Gwynbleidd feature soft acoustic breaks, but in reality those comparisons could be just as relevant to Agalloch
, another band these guys sort of sound like, a band that also happens to be (unjustifiably) compared to Opeth. The guitar tone in the first track definitely will induce comparisons, but as I said earlier, that's not giving these guys enough credit. The guitar tone is a lot crunchier, though some of the chord progressions will probably feel a little reminiscent at first glance.
And while we're on the topic, progression is the name of the game here. Gwynbleidd plays a style of Progressive Metal that utilizes all of their influences, which range from Death Metal, Black Metal and Folk. This is where my previously mentioned notion of the “blueprint” comes in.
To quote an unknown source:
The band plans on re-releasing all the songs on this EP on future releases, with
each song's placement depending on how much of its structure leans to "metal" or
"folk," as the band intends to release an album of each genre in the near
So instantly you have a band unwilling to compromise; a folk metal band with the willingness to openly acknowledge all of their influences equally, but not over-complicate things by filling their music with unnatural genre shifting.
But let's actually talk about the music; what does this sound like? First and foremost, the tracklist is daunting for an “EP”. There are a mere four tracks to be found on the album, each track clocking in at roughly 10 minutes. The album is split into two sections; though each song does contain of all their influences, the first half of the album is a more traditional metal affair whereas the second has a very heavy folk influence. Plus the second half is epic as can be.
The first two tracks are easily the most straightforward on the album. Nostalgia
, the aptly titled first track, comes off as a mix between the over-mentioned Opeth and the often-amazing Agalloch, all the while sounding like a thing of its own. Starting off with some dual clean electric guitar action, the song picks up with an Opethian crescendo, turning the tune to the heavier things. The opener introduces us to the first of two vocal styles found on the album, a partially-decipherable half-guttural croak, sort of like a mix between Mikael Akerfelt and John Haughm.
Are these comparisons killing you? Honestly, for a band that sounds like a thing of their own, I sure am having trouble describing them without mention of the bands they're supposedly feeding off of. But I digress.
carries on with steady mid-paced double bass and the occasional machine-like clank, a sound that sounds entirely out of place with the bands otherwise organic approach.
is what finally discredits any claims of the band being any sort of direct rip off. Starting off with very classical sounding acoustics, you're hit with a sustained electric guitar until a second enters. The first chunk, let's say the first two minutes, constantly toys with you. Starting up and then winding down again, you'd be hard pressed not to imagine a math-metal mess, but it's anything but. After some Viking Metal chants introduce us to the scarcely used clean vocals, you're hit with an oddly bluesy acoustic guitar lick, though in turn it does become rather folkish. Coming off almost Celtic in its execution, the acoustic guitar line is carried along with the occasional kick on the bass drum. With tension building, the electric guitar re-enters, and the tension is continually escalating. Where you'd expect a bombastic explosion of aggressive vocals and all its accompanying instrumental clichés, you're instead given a more laid-back climax; a simple folk-metal voyage with the occasional lead to re-affirm that these guys definitely know what they're doing.
Sadly, as I come to the end of the record, I realize that no matter how much I want to convince myself, this still sounds a little too familiar. In it's simplest, Amaranthine
is an outstanding record. Even if some parts are a little too Agallochian or Opethian, Gwynbleidd really adds a nice twist by balancing the two seamlessly with their own progressive slant. Still, I don't get the name; it's not as if it's an unfamiliar language, the band hails from New York. But, as always, I digress.
For a 40 minute, 4 song EP, I've surely typed too much. Though my opinion has swayed countless times per-listen, and I've listened to this quite a bit, I can safely bring myself to say this is a solid release. While the first half is definitely the one that will evoke the most comparisons, the second, more epic half is where the real gold is.
These guys are going places. They're going to do it all, they're just going to pace themselves. Here's to the future, and hopefully a more unique sound on albums to come.