Book of Dowth
Suidakra has a bit of a mixed reputation in metal circles. It seems that a lot of folk metal fanatics don't think that they're genuine enough, while some melodic death fans don't find them extreme enough for their tastes. Crogacht was a strong album, and when I caught wind of Book of Dowth and the rumor that the band would be continuing and further developing their hyper-melodic direction, I figured that it was high time that I properly acquaint myself with this band by buying their new offering.
Put simply, Book of Dowth is a superb example of what handily-done folk/death should sound like. The tunes fly wildly back and forth between breakneck blast beats and more laid back, folky acoustic (or mostly acoustic) tracks. Many an artist attempt to pull this balance off, but quite often it finds them flat on their face, with one half or the other falling considerably short of delivering. Suidakra, on the other hand, will simultaneously jam furious guitar leads in your brain while appealing successfully to your more pensive side with enchanting Celtic melodies like "Birog's Oath" and "Mag Mell".
The occasional colorful folky instrumentation here is very good. Opening instrumental track "Over Nine Waves" provides a haunting highland bagpipe intro which gradually develops into the frenzied opener "Dowth 2059", possibly my favorite new song in the genre yet this year. After a couple more good tracks, we are treated to the short but absolutely marvelous "Mag Mell", a soft track that boasts some lush acoustic guitar work and wistful vocal lines that make it my favorite track on the album (I know I just said something like this, but this song tickles an entirely different nerve of musical enjoyment). This sort of balance is what makes Book of Dowth such a lastingly rewarding listen.
Not that this record is without its flaws, however. One item that irritates me are the blast beats on some of the later songs. While I've never had extremely strong feelings one way or the other on this percussive technique, it doesn't serve the band well at all on songs like "Balor" and "Fury Fomoraigh". Here, it detracts from the excellent guitar lines, the somewhat promising lyrics, and the musical cohesion as a whole. Just because you have black/death roots doesn't mean you need to feel obliged to include some token blast beats guys, put the song first.
That aside, I have little else to complain about. Vocals that would have sent me running in the opposite direction a couple of years ago serve to enhance the vehemency with which Suidakra deliver their rather potent (and as we've witnessed, quite varied as well) brand of Celtic battle hymns. The musical elements are tight, the band is focused and has not only approached mastery of their standard sound, but delves ever more proficiently into colorful, more varied tracks that stand wholly in favor of their sound and story. High marks here, and a prime effort from a band that deserves their status as a contender for genre leader!
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The Protagonist's Rating: 8.75 out of 10