Zgard – Contemplation Review

Zgard_ContemplationYou never know when the winds of inspiration will go wafting through your soul like a favorite home-cooked meal. People will spend a good long time hammering out songs, putting hammer to anvil, cooling them off for a short time before honing them to perfection, and presenting their bared souls to the festering masses. Unless you are uber-prolific like Ukraine’s Zgard and release album after album, and I mean “four albums and one split in two years” prolific. And now, mastermind Yaromisl has unleashed Contemplation upon us. Will this have you ready for battle, braving the cold winds of war for greater glories, or are you better to sit this one out?

Speaking of winds, that’s how the album starts off with “Highlands” featuring winds blowing, an eagle screeching in the background, a female chanting one syllable (methinks it’s a Casio patch, but can’t confirm this) before going into Drudkh-like blackened pagan riffage, only not as enriching [A metal album that starts with wind? Brilliant! — Steel Druhm]. Yaromisl’s screeching reminds me of a younger Shagrath, only with a more higher, more maniacal pitch. One thing that caught my ear, is the acoustic passage about 3:36 into the song, again with winds and eagles, and some ominous keyboards before the sopilka (flute) appears. Nice. In fact, it’s the moments when the songs go back to folkier roots when Contemplation shines brightest.

And there’s plenty of atmosphere dripping from Contemplation. “Wedge of Cranes” has an almost joyous finale with the sopilka whistling rapturously. “Incarnation Memory” possesses an interesting bounce from the mouth harp and almost Dimmu Borgir-like riff near the beginning before settling to more winds (detect a theme here?), a crackling fire, throat singing, and more ominous keyboards. Hands down the best (and coincidentally longest) track on here would be “Underworld Bells,” featuring (what else) chiming bells played like a welcoming to the next realm, some of the strongest riffing on the album, a beautiful flute melody, and a chorus that can only be described as proud and anthemic, along the lines of the best of Bathory’s works.  The way the bells play off at the end of the song is a fitting way to go for a valiant warrior. Immense stuff. Also, beautiful album art.

Zgard_2014So, why the score?  Some of this just drags on and on endlessly. Whereas “Underworld Bells” nails the atmosphere to a somber T, other areas could be shortened a little (“Through the Forest,” the title track) or even in half (the meandering instrumental “Silence”). It just feels too damn long. I imagine it’s difficult to edit your work when you are the only one responsible for its creation. Also, the production could be less brickwalled, as there was some serious sizzling going on through headphones at any volume, and on my home speakers, though that may be from the format of the promo copy sent to me. Speaking of production, though, cut back on the sound effects, will ya? You like the wind patch on your keyboard, we get it!

While not a bad record, Contemplation, with a bit of time off and some self-editing (not to mention someone slapping Yaromisl’s hands away from the wind setting on his Roland) could have been a lot more. I gotta say, though, “Underworld Bells” is one helluva song. More like this, please. [I like windSteel Druhm].

Rating:  2.5/5.0
DR:  6 | Format Reviewed:  192kbps mp3
Label:  Svarga Music
Website:  ZgardFacebook
Release Dates:  EU: 2014.06.23 | NA: 8.12.2014


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