If you ascribe to the Arrow of Time theory, as AMG Inc. certainly does, you can never look back. Forward, always. A million-promo horde batters constantly at the wall, and only a brave few can stem the tide. So it’s the rare album indeed that subverts the laws of nature and demands you look backward. The Return is just such a prize. I heard it for the first time shortly after its release and could not condone the lack of a review of such quality music. Taking the field on their ghastly steed, Mongol slaughter their foes on the thick edge of a melodeath scimitar and arrow tips folked-up with hooks aplenty. The resultant carnage leaves The Return standing bloodied, proud, and defiant of time.
Underestimating Mongol proves dire for those not quick to admit their mistake. Their fat-boy style blends the presentation of countrymen Aeternam with the Eastern climes of Chthonic (“The Return”) and Demonic Resurrection (“Takhil”). This full body is not the obvious choice when operating in folk-reliant territory that typically requires a lot of breathing room, but the thick melodies that Mongol carry have a lot of the folkiness with them. The whole package is as in your face as you’d expect from an album about Genghis Khan returning from beyond the grave to take over the world, and just as ruthless. These melodies are, as the kids say, thicc af. They could raise me from the dead if played loud enough. But Mongol aren’t beholden to those melodies, easily transitioning on “The Return” and “Amongst the Dead” from head-bashing forwardness to folky rhythmic boppers that let Tev Tegri’s growls hook hard and deep. Throw in copious gallops and deep-pocket grooves, multiple layers of vocals spanning the brutality spectrum, and Sche-khe’s keys and diverse orchestration, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a song not brimming with vigor and fire.
The Return folds latent folk into its beefy melodies much the way Finntroll do: easily and effectively. But for overt folk elements to be effective, they practically have to bring the swarm of Mongol‘s other instruments to a halt. When these moments bust out, like the banjo solo on “Takhil” and the mandolin1 on Song o’ the Year contender “To the Wind,” they’re often excellent. But it would be nice to see a more malleable production that allows moments where they stand side by side with the guitars, like on “Amongst the Dead” and closer “Warband,” more often. Then again, perhaps that restraint is what prevents the album’s gravest misstep, “Dschinghis Khan,” from infecting the rest of the album. This ode to Papa Khan metallizes Boney M.’s (in)famous “Rasputin,” which is just as ridiculous as it sounds. The track blows way past what is expected from even the most radio-friendly folk metal and blows up the flow of the album, smack dab in the middle of it. Mongol aren’t Turisas, despite what this song would have you believe, and the level of intensity and seriousness on the remainder of The Return sticks a glowing red “Skip Me” sign on ole Dschingo’s back.
The Return sounds marvelous, or at least as much as it can with such a billion instruments packed into a smushed-together master. The instrumentation, especially the mandolin, sounds lush, and the guitar tones complement that orchestration really well. Tegri’s roars and howls simultaneously elevate and demolish, the sheer weight of their brass able to go blow for blow with the cinder block production of the instruments. Backing vox from Zev and Zelme, especially the gangs, add another even more catchiness to a record laden with vocal hooks. On the flip side, the drums lack definition, and the bass is in there somewhere, unfortunate yet unsurprising casualties of the production’s volume. You can’t win ’em all.
Mongol‘s third record is a big one, worth tossing out pre-conceptions and tossing on year-end melodeath shortlists. I’ll readily admit that a bunch of pasty Canadians playing folky melodeath tinged with Eastern melodies is an odd combination. But Whispered make it work, and so do Mongol. Riffs don’t lie, and Mongol will cut the tongue from any mouth that calls them lacking in that oh-so-important area. For fans of melodeath and folk, you won’t find much better than The Return this year.