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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: Folkodia - Battle Of The Milvian Bridge


If ever the term ‘multinational’ could be applied on a band, it would be on Folkodia. The list of past and present members is impressive. Formed in 2007 by the late Ruslanas Danisevskis, Folkodia has seen contributions to their work by musicians from more than 10 different countries, including Canada, France, Lithuania and Monaco, making it a full-sized international project. Consistently releasing an album more or less every year, the list of releases is equally impressive, with a grand total of 6 full-lengths between 2008 and 2013. In 2013, right around the release of The Fall Of The Magog, Ruslanas sadly lost his battle against cancer and passed away, causing the band to take a break to reconsider the future of the band. Honoring Ruslanas wishes they decided to keep on going, with the intention to come back stronger and more heavy than ever. The result is called Battle Of The Milvian Bridge, which has been released back in November.

As the titles of the albums suggest, Folkodia plays viking/folk metal, quite an overcrowded genre which makes it hard to distinguish yourself and avoid being too predictable. Well, as far as predictable goes, Folkodia initially ticks all the expected boxes. Be it the myth-related lyrics, the alternately harsh and clean vocals, the female vocals and the traditional instruments, every single feature related to folk and/or viking metal is to be found on Battle Of The Milvian Bridge. Furthermore multinational seems to be a recurring theme here. Where the members come from all over the world, the lyrics take us throughout Europe, from the battle of the Milvian bridge in Italy, via Greece through France with Joan of Arc to Masada, Israel.

Opener Battle Of The Milvian Bridge sets the tone, also ticking the expected folk and viking metal boxes, leaving no doubt as to where this is heading genre-wise: Rough-around-the-edges, folk-oriented viking metal. And that is exactly what you get, reasonably varied, up-tempo, energetic metal songs with room for various bells and whistles. Sounds like we have a great release on our hands then, right, especially since this is release number 7?

Wrong.

You guessed it, there is a huge ‘but’ coming here. In essence the idea behind the music of Battle Of The Milvian Bridge is good. The basic composition of most of the songs really offers enough perspective and potential to make it a great album, however there are so many flaws in the execution and production that it’s very hard to keep that in mind when you battle your way through it. A shame really, because I am convinced that these guys and girls are capable of delivering great music. The ideas are truly interesting, but the rest needs work. A lot of work.

Let’s start with the most striking flaw: the vocals. There’s an abundance of vocalists contributing to Battle…, but none of them scores above average, some of them even well below. Tone, clarity and, most of all, pronunciation are at times painfully off. I can live with an accent, in fact, in folk metal it can have its functionality in my opinion, but there are definite limits to that as far as I’m concerned. Limits that are more than once exceeded here. And if that isn’t enough the double or triple vocals are not augmenting at all, mainly due to their just-off tone and timbre. They simply don’t seem to fit next to each other. The fact the vocal lines regularly are out of sync in the production doesn’t help either. Try listening to Masada Burns or Red Rubicon for example. And speaking of out of sync in the production, that too seems to be a recurring theme. Not only the vocals have that problem at times, the same can be said from, among others, the violin (in Falcons Over Svevia) and the flute (in Hussar Angels). To top things off the drum lines appear to be designed to nail a coffin shut and, in case that doesn’t make the coffin airtight yet, are too loud in the mix, drowning the compositions at times.

All in all I was left pretty disappointed after hearing this. When the final tones died out after the initial spin I really had no intention to try it some more, but since I cannot and will not review an album after only one spin I more or less forced myself. In hindsight I’m glad I did, and Folkodia might be as well, because that gave me the opportunity to see through the obvious, incomprehensible and, in all honesty, sometimes unacceptable flaws and see the hidden beauty. And beauty there definitely is, it just doesn’t show enough. Not even close. The musicians are, as far as I can determine, more than capable. The composition and rhythm of the songs is without a doubt good, even though you might not hear it right away. The addition of violin, flute, accordion and whatnot certainly increases the overall quality and the intended variety of vocal types does the exact same thing. If they are willing and able to work on the earlier mentioned shortcomings in both execution and production I believe Folkodia might grow into a viking/folk metal force to be reckoned with. If not, well, then I don’t see them play a significant role in the folk/viking metal scene. And for now I would consider that a loss. I will definitely keep an eye out for them to see if and how they progress or, maybe more accurate, work on their flaws.

Written by Henric van Essen

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