Review Summary: Many years from now our stories will show them the way
The words “folk metal” have a tendency to polarize and split fans of metal. From the cosplay wearing, alcohol fueled antics of Korpiklaani to the solemn reverence of the mighty Moonsorrow, the genre inherently lends itself to many interpretations of the style. While Finntroll were toiling in their musty caves, Saor began rising to the front lines with sword in hand. A unifying theme among the greats, however, is the power of storytelling, the marriage of music and imagery that resonates through the listener as all good stories do.
Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, lead composer and multi-instrumentalist Cryvas has returned, again in the company of the angelic Grushenka Ødegård on vocals, to deliver an exceptional follow-up to their 2017 debut, The Sachem’s Tales.
While continuing in a similar vein of their previous effort, and the second full-length to paint an epic musical narrative surrounding Native American lore, Thunder in the Mountains
sonically captures the imagery of classic tales inspired by H. W. Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha”. Standing side by side metal giants and label mates Saor and Sojourner, Dzö-nga (pronounced zone-gah) deliver a blackened folk metal opus of larger than life proportions that fans of the genre should instantly embrace due to its familiarity, however, upon a deeper introspection may discover something more.
As the sparkling harp-like synths of “The Song of Hiawatha” tranquilly pluck their way through the unsuspecting prologue, the pounding of drums meet distorted guitars, ethereal vocals blanket the stage, and in a seamless twist the juxtaposing vocals of Cryvas and battle-worthy melodies of the album’s namesake kick off Thunder in the Mountains.
The fusion of various instruments and vocal styles combined with dynamically interesting songwriting effortlessly persists through the 46 minute runtime in such a seamless fashion that no sooner do the resounding harp-like synths return as epilogue in a full circle closure. From the roaringly thunderous beats that ignite “Heart of Coal” to the somberly contemplative melodies of the closing ballad “The Death of Minnehaha” Dzö-nga have managed to elevate their craft as songwriters to the next level. It’s the aforementioned seamless twists and turns on display here that are incredibly engaging throughout, somehow sounding consistently fresh without ever breaking focus.
The commendable production handled under the watchful of eyes of Borknagar’s founder Øystein G. Brun on mixing duties, and the legendary Dan Swanö on mastering can’t be denied. Notable guest performances include Þórir Nyss on session guitars, and a stunning cello performance by Raphael Weinroth-Browne, most known for his work with Musk Ox and Leprous, on the penultimate instrumental track “Starlight, Moonlight, Firelight”. This all-star cast of contributors help solidify Thunder in the Mountains
as a record worthy of both praise and attention.
With Thunder in the Mountains,
Dzö-nga set out to transform a literary piece of work into a musical landscape. The aim was to tell a story, to paint a picture through the colors of songwriting, to be inspired by and bring a relatively unknown tale to life. While oftentimes concept albums can fall short of their aim, Dzö-nga have managed to surpass expectations while firing on all cylinders, progressing in both musicianship and songwriting, and ultimately produce an exceptional realization of musical art.
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