I’m a sucker for bands who incorporate their country’s cultural sounds into their music. Whether it’s Orphaned Land‘s Israeli instrumentation, Chthonic‘s weeping erhu-induced Taiwanese melodies, or Nile‘s violent riffing recalling the war-torn sand dunes and ancient pyramids of their home country of South Carolina, peppering your music with your country’s native sounds can make things a bit more interesting. Like Rotting Christ before them, Greek black metallers Kawir flavor their evil brew with various wind instruments and unique percussion. After 23 years and various EPs and splits, their sixth full-length, Father Sun Mother Moon, is in my grubby hands. Is this a proper offering to the Gods?
With a singular bell, the strumming of a kanonaki (or lap harp), and a pipe flute, “To The Sovereign Sun” quietly makes its presence felt until about 1:11, when the opening melody is given the Zgard treatment, driving the song towards Mount Olympus. Guitarists Therthonax and Melanaegis build a heady atmosphere between that melody and the backing riffs. Returning vocalist Porphyrion remains as raspy as he did on 2008’s Ophiolatreia, sounding just as feverish and maniacal. New drummer Hyperion does a great job with his double-bass work and impressive fills, performing tasteful cymbal runs when the occasion calls for it. There’s a heaping amount of melody and memorable riffs on here. Even with its daunting length, the song goes by with little in ways of a hitch.
Which is what I wish I could say for the remainder of Father Sun Mother Moon. To put it bluntly, it’s a 64-minute album that feels much longer at times. Some songs, like “Dionysus,” have the main riff played for too long. Others, like the unbearably repetitive closer “The Descent of Persephone,” could have been omitted entirely without any detriment. Thankfully, much of the material here is good-to-great. Other parts of “Dionysus” feel empowering, thanks to Pandion’s flute mastery. “To Mother Moon” opens with a peaceful flute melody, harmonized by Melanaegis just a few seconds later to great effect, recalling Amorphis at their most Thousand Lakes-ish. Album highlight “Hail to the Three-Shaped Goddess” possesses the strongest melodies and riffs, with gang shouts, pummeling percussion work, and a beautiful acoustic ending. When they fire on all cylinders, and switch riffs off just at their expiration date, Kawir grabs the listener, hands them a shield, a sword, and a helmet, and valiantly leads them to battle.
The production could use a little help. The drums are up front and loud, with the cymbals taking the biggest hit. The vocals and guitars seem to be battling for the #2 seed, and some of the string instruments sound absolutely painful, especially during “The Taurian Artemis.” Somehow, bassist Echetleos is miraculously audible, poking his head up here and there in the mix. The band really needs to vary their riffs and tempos up a bit as well. Just like Rotting Christ and Zgard, you can only stay in that mid-range tempo for so long before things become boring. Also, the reliance on Mediterranean instrumentation can only go so far, especially when all the guitars do is chug (looking at you, “Dionysus”).
Still, I find myself returning to Father Sun Mother Moon quite a bit. It’s long in the tooth, sure, but it’s an enjoyable romp when taken in small doses. If Therthonax can keep this line-up secure long enough, I see great things ahead for them. Until then, give “Hail to the Three-Shaped Goddess” yet another listen.