Gjoad – Samanōn Review

Matching album art to musical concept is, I imagine, a challenging task for any artist or band to attempt. Two different artistic styles coming together in harmony is certainly a tough ask, but in this case, Gjoad have nailed it. The painting you see over there, by Franz Steinfeld, could not be a more accurate description of the Samanōn sound — which is a good thing, because it’s the primary reason I picked this one up to review. I wanted something primal, something powerful, and something ancient, and it seems to me that that’s exactly what this Austrian trio are going for on their debut release. The question, of course, is how well they pull it off.

Thirty-five minutes of mostly instrumental atmospheric rock with touches of atmoblack here and there is the most succinct way I could describe Samanōn to you — of course, my minimum word count is much higher than we’ve reached thus far, so I don’t mind elaborating a bit more on that. The core of the album is found in its introduction track, “Rouh — Samanōn,” a fourteen-minute long creeper that opens the album with beautiful guitar work atop the band’s more eclectic signatures, which include such instruments as jaw harps, singing bowls, bells, and plenty more that these mortal ears can’t distinguish well enough. Theirs is a slow, methodical approach to open the album and eventually expands to include hypnotizing percussion, blast beats, melodic leads, and nuanced variety. That the song takes over eight minutes to get there is of no real consequence — Gjoad employ a steady and sure approach to Samanōn, and it pays off.

The trend continues on “Peraht,” a song of similar length and diminished aggression, and this is where Gjoad really shine — slow, intense builds over powerful ambience are what Samanōn is all about. It’s for this reason that the rest of the album doesn’t work quite as well as its opening tracks — at three, four, and five minutes each, there simply isn’t enough time to truly establish the atmospheres that hit so hard over the album’s opening tracks, which take up over twenty minutes of the whole. “Gartsang” has the distinction of being the only track with a recognizable vocal performance (yes, this is a primarily instrumental album), though the focus of the track is too much on the narrative style and not enough on the foreboding guitar picking that takes up the background. This really highlights the idea that Gjoad seem to work much better as an instrumental band than the alternative, and their long-form songs give them a chance to really show off the power, beauty, and tension inherent in their style. By comparison, it’s hard for the remainder of the album to live up to its opening two numbers.

From a production standpoint, I like what Gjoad are doing here. Thematically, Samanōn reminds me of any number of atmospheric black acts — Wodensthrone, Winterfylleth, and even a little October Falls come to mind — in their attempted evocation of a time long gone. The main difference, of course, is that Gjoad don’t use very many words to convey their inner musings, so it helps that, compared to what is typical for the aforementioned acts, Samanōn has a clean, clear sound that emphasizes the record’s tension and flow, which is important — it would otherwise be dangerously easy to find your mind wandering throughout. As is, the album’s clear sound and thematic cohesion help to emphasize everything that Gjoad are doing right here.

Ultimately, Samanōn’s appeal lies in its wordless feeling. Gjoad have delivered a strong debut well worth experiencing. They exercise remarkable skill in their songwriting; Samanōn is restrained, mighty, and, despite a few missteps in the album’s second half, cohesive. I will happily look forward to hearing more albums like this one; the way Gjoad evoke an ancient world with their music feels like a rare talent indeed.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Antiq Records
Websites: Too kvlt for webz
Releases Worldwide: December 15th, 2020

« »