Released: 2008, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: The Crimson King
The sub-genre of metal known as “Viking metal” has seen an increasing rise in popularity over the years. Credit is given to Quorthon and his legendary band Bathory for creating the genre with their “trilogy” of albums that began in 1988 with the classic BLOOD FIRE DEATH and continued with HAMMERHEART in 1990 and culminated with the release of TWILIGHT OF THE GODS in 1991. The diversity of these three legendary releases has allowed for the inclusion of bands of many a different ilk to now be placed under the banner of Viking metal. From the straightforward death metal approach to the genre of Amon Amarth to the black metal styling of bands like Windir and Falkenbach; from the folk influenced music of bands like Eluveitie and Manegarm to the progressive edge of the current releases of Enslaved, the genre proves to be one of the most diverse in all of metal today. Building on this diversity, Equilibrium’s new release SAGAS blazes a new trail in this ever diverse genre.
Originating from Germany, Equilibrium was formed in 2001 to play what was, at the time, supposed to be a single live show. Based off the resounding crowd approval received at that show, the members chose to stay together and got their first demo together in 2003. This led to a deal with Black Attakk records and the release of their first album, TURIS FRATYR in 2006. That album brought the notice of some of the big labels in the metal industry, and the band inked a deal with Nuclear Blast through which SAGAS is released. And both the band and the label deliver a major home run with the album. The album is a genre bending meld of all of the signature styles within the genre. It is first and foremost a symphonic album which incorporates elements of black metal, heavy doses of pagan folk (flutes and all), doom, classic rock riffing, power metal, and at times the rhythmic bounce of the Finnish humppa style of bands like Korpiklaani and Finntroll.
The album opens with “Prolog auf Erden” which works as a prelude track for the album. Opening with a haunting blackened doom metal feel, the keyboards kick in and transform the song into what I can best describe as the kind of musical score one would expect to hear over pre fight training montage in a Rocky movie. This takes a decidedly different feel when the black metal howls of singer Helge Stang are layered in over the track. The song slows tempo and provides a brief clean sung part before the flutes come poring in over the track and build the song to its crescendo. This leads into “Wurzelburt” which again opens with a symphonic film score type feel that transitions in a blast beat track that is simultaneously equal parts black metal and humppa, played over the continuous score laden backdrop. The next track, “Blut in Auge,” begins with the strong folk metal tinge of the work of bands like Falconer and early Elvenking. This feel never leaves the track even as the tempo is picked up and the black and death metal vocals come pouring in. This eclectic style continues to be encapsulated in song after song that provides the listener with a seamless meld of simultaneous musical influences that, in turn, produces a truly breathtaking listening experience. It should be noted that, if the track titles did not give it away, the entire album is sung in their native language of German, but rather than detracting from the music, this actually adds another element of mystique to the release. It becomes nearly impossible to pick standout tracks as each one is truly something to behold. The album ends with a 16+ minute instrumental (if you don’t count the Gregorian like chanting throughout as lyrics) simply named “Mana” that again brings together the numerous styles used throughout the album into one of the most impressive pieces of music this year. There is so much going on in the track that, at times, it feels like the band must be the size of the entire London Symphony Orchestra and USC marching band combined, rather than the five person crew that it is..
It is rare in this day and age to find albums that are genuinely mind blowing upon first listen. Equilibrium has accomplished this with SAGAS. Additional kudos must also be given to Nuclear Blast for recognizing the potential of this album and thus giving it release in not only a standard edition, but also providing a special edition with a 70+ minute bonus DVD, an available 2 LP vinyl pressing of the album, and a 500 piece limited edition mail order only package that comes with a patch and certificate and comes packaged in a commemorative tin. With SAGAS, Equilibrium has proven themselves to be an undeniable new force in the industry. The album proves to stand as one of the seminal releases of the year, and is truly one of the most unique and refreshing pieces of music I have heard in a long time.