Review Summary: Making their namesake deity proud
In 2014, Selvans thrust themselves into the metal underground as a fledgeling project of two friends from Abruzzo, Italy, looking for a creative outlet after the dissolution of their previous band, Draugr. In ancient Etruscan mythology, Selvans is the god of forests, nature and boundaries, although the latter seems almost ironically inappropriate due to the fact that boundaries are the last thing to be respected on this magnificent, hour-long journey through these dark, enchanted, swampy woodlands.
If we're to assign a particular genre, then 'Lupercalia' would fall under the folk-influenced black metal category. However, this isn't your average, run of the mill, regurgitated riffs over cheesy, eccentric and uninspired flute-abuse; this is a masterclass in restraint, elegance and atmospheric development. Yes, the flute ("acktuallyyy... it's a tibiae") is a commonly utilised instrument throughout the course of this album, but it serves almost exclusively as an atmospheric catalyst, remaining minimalistic and firmly behind the guitars and the similarly minimalistic synths.
The usage of synthesisers is common in many forms of black metal, but remains a topic of controversy within the scene. For better or for worse, many bands seem to make a statement on their position by either adopting a hardline all-or-nothing approach. Selvans, too, arrived at this junction of decision, but simply decided to drive off the road and forge their own dirt track. What I mean to say is that, like with the flute, the synths play a prominent role in the overall sound that Selvans are trying to create in 'Lupercalia'; however, Dimmu Borgir this is not. A lot of the time, the synths could simply be construed as another rhythm guitar or bassline in the mix, but when they play a more advanced role they shine and don't feel like they're trying to take focus away from the rest of the instrumental performance.
There are many sections where it the vocals take a back seat and the instruments are allowed to take the lead, marching onwards with some very interesting interplay between traditionally heavy and dark, as well as energetic and light riffs. This is always a welcome occurrence, because although there is nothing wrong with the vocal performance, the instrumental prowess on display is what takes the crown. The variety of riffs of display here is impressive, and continually shift from melodic to heavy, in styles which always seem to compliment what the rest of the music is doing at that particular time.
Though the album is comprised of 6 songs, the main body of work is contained in just 5 lengthy songs, totaling 58 minutes, with only 1 of these being under 10 minutes. However, rarely does this prove to be a problem as the songs flow in a completely natural and progressive manner, seldom outstaying their welcome, in a style similar to Opeth or Edge of Sanity. Take, for example, the interlude in 'O Clitumne!' in which the monolithic atmospheric black metal section winds down with the minimalist introduction of piano, slowly leading into into some classically-influenced tremolo picking and what I can only ignorantly assume is a harmonica. When this section finishes, ending with a return to the song's main riff, a real sense of meaning lingers. The band evidently put an incredible amount of effort into making everything sound as refined as possible, never overindulging in one particular sound or instrument (of which there are many) and always making sure to balance the differing acoustic extremes. For such a heavy album, clocking in at over an hour, 'Lupercalia' does an excellent job of keeping the listener engaged, and massive credit needs to be given to the band for that, especially considering this is their first full-length effort. What does the future hold for Selvans? The prospects only look good...
Each track (including the introduction) is of the highest quality, and it feels almost unfair to mention standout tracks. However, for anyone new to the band looking to get a quick understanding of what it is they stand for, check out 'Versipellis' or the 17 minute epic album-closer 'N.A.F.H'. The vocal performance on the latter recommendation is the vocal highlight of the album, veering slightly away from the traditionally shrill black metal shriek and venturing more into emotionally-charged territory (at times reminiscent of A. A Nemtheanga from Primordial) as the beautifully written story comes to a close.
"Condemned to live
In a mist of regrets
My body is worn out,
But my eyes are still wide!
The words that my father
Told me in that field
Now awakens my pride,
The force comes to me!
Hope in my eyes
Deceives my mind
There’s no way to save my life..."