Sagenland – Oale groond Review

Apparently dating back to the year 2000, but with only a 2005 split under their belt, Sagenland is finally unveiling their debut album called Oale groond (Old Land). Oale groond is apparently steeped in the history and traditions of Twente, a region our resident Dutch expert told me is a rural area in the Eastern Netherlands. Releases following such long periods of seeming inactivity tend to go one of two ways: the first is that the resulting product is highly polished and evidently the labor of many hours; the second is that the band was truly inactive and subsequent albums demonstrate the lack of imagination which had previously stunted the band. Which way does this go?

Following the record’s opening on “Weer thus” (a rendition of “The Last Post”), “De jammerklachten van Singraven — eerste deel” (“Part One”)” introduces Sagenland’s sound as one of black metal. It’s quick and sharp with cutting melodies and my immediate response was that I have definitely heard worse. It drags the sound’s traditionalism into the modern day with driving rhythms, a shredding guitar, and heartier drums than any black metal heard in the 90s. Further, there’s a folksy overlay that confers an earthier tone. “De jammerklachten van Singraven — tweede deel” (“Part Two”)” first features choral, almost Viking, chants in its opening before breaking out an acoustic guitar to drape over the top of the black metal. The drum’s rhythms are somber and shamanistic too. The dynamic use of guitars and atmosphere in the interludes recalls Ungfell. I think there are legs in this approach, especially when the melodic moments are gilded with the shredding guitar tone, and it ensures that Oale groond stays far away from the sort of black metal which is a) stuck in a time warp and b) completely ignorable.

Interludes are core to the song-writing. “Part One” is one of the heaviest tracks, so “Part Two” duly opens with a delicate guitar and chanting to offer a contrast. Similarly, “Part Two” concludes heavily, so is followed by “Veur de leu van vrogger,” which is an entire interlude track. Further, there is a mid-track pause on “In’t bos,” while “Van eigen land” offers another minute of breathing space. Finally, the closer called “Terug noar et laand van aleer” is a soft, atmospheric conclusion. The record only runs for 34 minutes and even for a furious genre such as black metal this is hardly overbearing, so the extensive suffusion of pauses feels unnecessary and inhibits the bleaker atmosphere of the black metal. It’s certainly dynamic but it lacks threat as relaxation is never more than a few minutes away. On this point, the acoustic melodies largely serve their purpose and are relatively pretty but I didn’t find myself wonderstruck at their poignance, as I am with the best acoustic writing in metal.

Another demerit goes against the staccato writing. Perhaps the worst offender is the end of “Part Two” (which is generally one of the better tracks) when the heavy verse simply stops mid-riff and fades to black in about 3 seconds. There is a theme of abruptly ending one passage and beginning another, including (among others) the transition from soft to heavy in the middle of “In’t bos” and the transition from “In’t bos” into “Van eigen land.” There are good ideas, good leads, and good arrangements but Sagenland has not yet worked out how to stitch all these together in a slick way and signify changes with musical cues. If the abruptness is deliberate then this vision was executed but it seems misguided as to what actually sounds satisfactory.

Oale groond is an earnest debut album by a band demonstrating admirable dedication to their part of the world which shows promise in its compositions which arrange decent black metal with folksy elements and a robust sense of melody. In spite of these wins, Sagenland still lacks the innovation and ethereal atmosphere of an (early) Ulver, and the dynamism and idiosyncratic strangeness of an Ungfell. It’s a solid building block but more work is required to construct something excellent from this. As it turns out, Oale groond falls into neither of my predicted camps.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: Heidens Hart
Releases Worldwide: January 15th, 2020

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