Title: Across The Darkened Skies
Artist: Sworn To The Sword (Fenris)
Release Date: 2014 March 05
Genre: Folk Metal
License: CC BY-ND
Pricing: Name Your Price
Label: BandCamp

Introduction

Wait, am I on the CerebralRift reading a review of a folk metal release?  WTF is going on?  So, look, I still like a bit of metal from time to time.  I just don’t find a lot of it that I think has qualities that are worth reviewing.  That isn’t the case when taking a trip across the skies of Sworn To The Sword (Fenris).

I should point out, thisSworn To The Sword (Fenris) is not to be confused with the Viking Metal band Fenris from the Netherlands.  ThisSworn To The Sword (Fenris) is composed of three members: Eric Hill, Alejandro “Jandro” Sacripanti, Josh Samuels, and hail from Plano, Texas.  Personally, I think having two bands in very similar music genres with the same name is not a good thing…and I would recommend this Sworn To The Sword (Fenris) (from Plano, TX) think about modifying their name to avoid confusion.  (I recommend this because the Fenris from the Netherlands has been established longer, and is not dormant based on their touring schedule from last year).

[Ed Note: The DID change their name from Fenris to Sworn To The Sword!]

Across The Skies of Fenris

Most of my metal listening comes from very old-style metal music: Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Ozzy Ozbourne, AC/DC, etc.  However a  few metal artists / groups have caught my attention in the Creative Commons area.  I am a huge fan of Cloudkicker, Visions of Tragedy, …and then there were FROGZ!, and Obsidian Shell just to name a few.  On a recent wander around BandCamp’s discover system, I came across some CC metal that I wasn’t familiar with before, and Fenris was one of these artists.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard folk metal, viking metal, or similar sub-genres of death metal.  In general I’ve found most dark / death metal to be a turn off.  Why?  The most prominent reason is the vocal styles.  The gravel-voiced grumbling vocals of most death metal bands really don’t do anything to enhance the style of the music in my opinion.  These aren’t vocalists with the range and style of a Tom Waits, they are people who have a certain sound and typically add little to the music itself.

But, that’s one of the places where Sworn To The Sword (Fenris) seems to set themselves apart to some degree.  The vocals by Eric Hill are more melodic than those you will find most death metal bands, and do accentuate the folk nature of the music, while keeping with the grumbling gravel-voice that metal devotees have come to love.  However, not all the vocal work on this release works out for the best.  For example the a capella section on the end of ‘Nazgul’, while a nice touch, show that the harmony, blending and vocal ensemble could be tighter.

Another feature that is really excellent on this release is the highlighting of bass parts on some of the tracks, like the opening of ‘Mask’.  It’s unfortunate that more metal bands don’t give some space to the bass guitar in their music.  I often feel that bass is one of the least understood instruments of rock bands, because while it is part of the rhythm section there are complicated parts they often play in terms of harmony, chord structures, etc.

Sworn To The Sword (Fenris) also does some nice work trying to fill out the folk metal style by having some introductions and interludes that are more authentic folk music in style.  The success of this technique varies.  On the opening track, ‘Across The Darkened Skies’ it works wonderfully, whereas on ‘Riverside’ it doesn’t work very well.  There are a couple of reason why it sometimes doesn’t work.  On ‘Riverside’ for example, there is the weakness in the vocals I pointed out above.

But also, there seems to be a problem with the overall production / engineering of this release that leaves a lot of the sound somewhat flat. For example, on the same track, ‘Riverside’, there is a lot of work going on in the bass, but it seems to be mostly swallowed up in the kick drum.  the overall flatness of the sound on this release makes it sound like a release from the 1980’s instead of what can be done with today’s recording and engineering techniques.

A couple of final shout-outs for this release.  I really like that the band occasionally sneeks in some progressive metal sections, such as on ‘Heathen Vengeance’.  And, also, the exceptional cover of the Blind Gaurdian track ‘Valhalla’.

Conclusion

For me this is a mixed bag of a release.  Staring with the fact there are two bands named Fenris [Ed. Note: No more…] in similar sub-genres of dark metal that can make for confusion, to the lackluster engineering of the recording there are things that just seem to not have had the attention that they should have had for a first release. The vocals by Eric Hill are better than most death metal bands, and yet the harmony work, ensemble and blending need work.  The band tries to stretch the folk metal genre, and again has mixed results that work on some tracks like ‘Across The Darkened Sky’ but don’t work on tracks like ‘Riverside’.

On the more positive side, the overall music is good, tight, well structured.  The band has a really good style.  Focusing on the bass parts is a nice touch, and having a few progressive rock style interludes is another nice touch.  There are a few tracks that really deserve singling out as must hear: ‘Nazgul’ (a bow to JRR Tolkien), ‘Mask’ and “Valhalla’.

Fenris: Across The Darkened Skies

Name Your Price
6.5

Rating

6.5/10
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Posted by George De Bruin