Review Summary: Par for the course songwriting and awkward stylistic diversions make for the first real stumble in Equilibrium's career.
Folk metal may be commonly derided for being an obnoxiously grandiose and inherently cheesy brand of heavy metal, but in the case of veteran German outfit Equilibrium, that’s kind of the point. In retrospect, the same could be said for many folk metal groups, with all due respect to the bands that do understand the virtue of subtlety, but Equilibrium utterly thrive by the scale of their music. If anything, the reason Sagas
was such a lauded and lovable record was because of how deafeningly massive
it was. An hour plus runtime, high intensity barrages of synths and orchestrations, and a sixteen-minute instrumental closer were just the most noticeable features of the album rather than the entirety, and the key was that Sagas
was simply a relentlessly invigorating approach to folk metal that could elicit no other audience reaction than a willingness to be swept away in it. Equilibrium have held to that habit of making “big” music over their entire career, but Armageddon
is the first time they’ve actually kind of stumbled at doing so.
It’s not so much the fact that Armageddon
is stripped down that’s the problem. Equilibrium had already done this with Rekreatur
, trading out their folk influences for a more cut and dry symphonic presence but the result was still respectably solid. 2014’s Erdentempel
, despite hearkening back to the band’s folk metal roots, was likewise streamlined, just in a more effective manner. Comparably, Armageddon
is like a take two of Rekreatur
, lacking folk influences in favor of accessible melodic death metal compositions. But again, that’s not entirely the issue. It’s more or less the pervading feeling that Equilibrium is finally feeling a little stale combined with some very interesting, but ultimately ill-fitting stylistic diversions that drag Armageddon
In classic form, Armageddon
opens with an intro that waffles a bit with setting up an actual atmosphere before jumping right into a flamboyant symphonic progression to set the mood. It’s not graceful, but there’s no reason to expect it would be. The first handful of tracks are par for the course for Equilibrium; thundering riffs, epic melodies, and Robse Dahn’s scathing growls compressed into tight knit melodeath songs. And they’re fine just being that, being unsurprising yet entertaining, concise yet taking appropriate time with the composition. “Born To Be Epic” is another story however. It seems to follow suit like its predecessors at first, but then one of those odd stylistic switch-ups I mentioned crops up. It’s bizarre really, a flute mixed into a bouncy modern electronic beat, and its placement brings the track’s momentum to an unsteady lurch. “Zum Horizont” brings the album back down to earth immediately after with a callback to Equilibrium’s old folk leanings, but the damage is done. “Koyaaniskatsi” expounds on this momentum halt with awkwardly saccharine synths (and equally ill-advised backing beats) to contrast with spoken word audio samples. Yet Equilibrium still manage to reign in these diversions with grounded songs immediately after, this time being the appropriately monolithic epic “Eternal Destination”, a strong high note to send the album off.
is really the first actual stumble in Equilibrium’s career, no matter how many might insist Rekreatur
did it first. It’s definitely Equilibrium in spades, but a more reserved one that shows its uncertainty with headlong forays into areas they have no business dallying with. They’re good enough at what they do to make it work for now, but down the road that’s going to count for less and less. And on a side note, let’s all say a silent prayer for the unfortunate disappearance of the legendary Equilibrium ten minute plus instrumental closer. Lost but not forgotten.