It’s true, going into any Viking metal-related band and expecting innovation is an exercise in futility. With Eluveitie basically making the same album over and over again and Ensiferum getting more clichéd and boring with every passing record [How dare you??? — Steel Druhm], not to mention countless other bands putting out forgettable records; they all tend to blur into one. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for SuidAkrA though — a band that offers all the enjoyment of bands of Ensiferum‘s ilk, but with none of the cringe-worthy theatrics and clichés. While I can’t speak for their earlier material, having never heard it, I can speak to their great 2009 record, Crógacht. It featured a mix of melodic death metal and gorgeous, triumphant sounding bagpipes that not only added a bright, invigorating energy to the sound, but also ensured a certain uniqueness to their musical palette. Couple this with some great riffs and great performances all around and you’re onto a winner of an album. Their last release, Book of Dowth had many of the same aspects, but ultimately was a more forgettable experience, overshadowed by the achievements of its predecessor.
This brings us to Eternal Defiance, minus a few minor details, it’s the same album yet again. This isn’t necessarily meant in a derogatory way either, as many people would be absolutely thrilled at the idea of a mix of Crógacht and Book of Dowth, which is what this album essentially is. You get catchy riffs, occasional non-metal instrumentation handled far more tastefully than the majority of their peers (note to Eluveitie: playing a bad melody on a hurdy gurdy doesn’t make it a good melody), and songs that have structures that don’t stick to verse/chorus. There are also a few minor twists and turns. Luckily, all of them serve the album very well, which proves SuidAkrA are a band that understands control and how to avoid the over-use of gimmicks. A lesson many of their peers could stand to learn.
When SuidAkrA decide to use the more “in-your-face” genre clichés, they handle it well. The introduction track, “Storming the Walls”, is enough to get the pessimists of the style interested with some tasteful orchestration teamed with pounding drums and guitar, all handled just about perfectly. This track is a proper herald for the rest of the album which is suitably epic. A lot of the tracks have minor highlights rather than overt variation, with “Beneath the Red Eagle” having a great vocal performance by both the frontman and the female session vocalist; “March of Conquest” having wonderful interplay between the vocalists and bagpipes buzzing away in the chorus; memorable, catchy and damn enjoyable. However, I could do without the forced and contrived folk songs like “The Mindsong,” which is a cringefest from beginning to end. Not because of bad performances, but because it’s just so shamelessly accessible and clichéd. A blunder on an otherwise good recording.
Otherwise, the rest of the album is the same mix of melodic death full of catchy riffs, pounding drums, war-like orchestral pads, bagpipes, male/female (and some great raspy vocals). Just like the last two albums, and possibly more. While it sounds like I’m not impressed by this album, allow me to stress that I am. It’s a good album — it’s SuidAkrA playing to their strengths and it quite frankly proves that SuidAkrA are a band that the folk metal scene needs. A band that sticks to what they’re good at and doesn’t fall into clichéd radio rock potholes with every consecutive album (Eluveitie). Nor are they biting off far more than they can chew and trying too hard to re-live the successes of past albums (Equilibrium). Or just deciding “You know what? Let’s suck!” (Ensiferum) [Dude!! — Steel Druhm]. They don’t strive to impress, but they craft a mix of winning elements that results in an enjoyable, epic, yet tasteful album.
For those with a taste for the epic, Viking-influenced side of metal, I don’t think I could recommend anything better these days. It goes to show that good riffs and melodies can indeed conquer all, and conquering is what this music is all about, right? Or is it about mead? Both in equal measure? Or perhaps the Emperor or Rome? Bah, I need a drink.