Probably due to the fun I had at Warhorns this year, I find myself taking a look at the debut album from Ithilian, a band from the snowy wastes of Belgium (judging from the photos you do have to wrap up warm there.) Yes that is another Tolkien themed name there (I dread the first metal band calling themselves House Lannister but at least it wouldn’t be bloody Tolkein), yes they have scraps of fur, dirt and the odd straggly beard but do they have the musical goods to rise above the cookie-cutter facade?
The answer is a resounding “Umm…. ”
First thing to bear in mind is that this is Ithilien’s debut full length and with only a previous EP and single behind them so they are a very young band and virtually no one (unless you’re Emperor or somebody) come out unique and fully formed from the off. The good stuff here is that Ithilien are a sound bunch of musicians with a style that is built on a solid layer of that traditional black metal -lite sound, death vocals and the sprinkling of keyboards and folk instruments such as Flemish bagpipes. Intro ‘Battle Cry’ is very promising; nicely atmospheric and there’s a good clear production here too. However when we get to first song proper ‘Unleashed’ I’m a bit underwhelmed to say the least by what is a song with strong riffing and reasonable if generic vocals but a lamentable lack of anything resembling hook or catchiness in a melody line. ‘Rebirth ‘ does at least have that but it’s still not there as an in your face rousing song and in the end also slips me by. ‘Sealed Destiny’ is an instrumental essentially built around a four note melody which seems fairly pointless if OK. ‘Through Wind And Snow’ is where I figure out the issue I have with the album: Drama.
This is, to all intents and purposes, a concept album, a tale from Tolkien’s world. Yet for all the skill and effort Ithilian put in I am never swept away by it. It could be the production which is a bit flat with everything at a level and nothing shining, but I can’t help but think the writing here hasn’t hit the mark. It’s the difference between classic fantasy and generic; the ingredients are there and even of a good quality but the proportions are too off the shelf and expected and no real spice is added. Nothing sparkles or shines with that extra, rousing surge and even ‘Drinkin Song sounds a tad polite next to the anarchic mischief Trollfest would uncork. I can taste little sense of adventure here and a sense of storytelling like Turisas used to have is sadly lacking as well. Oh, and it’s a tad too long as an album as well.
Sorry to sound so negative so let’s end on the positive. A young band in terms of how long they have been together, obviously competent musicians and they also have a vision of where they want to go and their own mythos they want to explore. All good. More attention to what makes a song and a tale involving and enthralling, push the variety in the vocals, raise the melodies higher and they will be there. There are enough touches here that I am pretty confident they can do it.
Folk obssessives give them a go, but at the moment they are sadly not for me.