RETRO TUESDAYS: Falkenbach – …En Their Medh Riki Fara… (1996)

The old and reliable barometer for what is ‘good’ versus trash in my book of heavy metal has always been dotted with great peaks in my listening habits that centered on musicians who are able to make heavy music that is a.) Delivered with feeling or b.) Makes me feel something. Often clouded by love of guitar technique, sound, and third or fourth generation iteration of influence, my mind recalibrates by returning to those great peaks, those self-determined ‘great works’ with endless personal resonance. While I admit a prolonged and persisting obsession with the discography of Bathory primed me for it, few bands have affected and enriched my life as much as Düsseldorf  based folk/black/viking metal artist Falkenbach. Though I would, and will, hail this debut full-length ‘…En Their Medh Riki Fara…’ into eternity, I should include that all releases from Vratyas Vakyas (Markus Tümmers) receive identical praise and high rating. I am an impossibly devoted fan.

Ever the visionary Quorthon (Bathory) conceived of viking metal in the late 80’s and released ‘Hammerheart’ in 1990 as the major blueprint for the style. Falkenbach was conceived around the same time but throughout the early 90’s formed Vakyas‘ own style that combined black metal with elements of both viking metal and the then-burgeoning but long existing folk metal movement. After some very formative and raw demo tapes he’d landed upon the ‘Laeknishendr’ demo in 1995 with an ‘almost there’ snippet of his vision. Though cloudy in sound and with a muddy drum machine that blurs some of the faster black metal parts, the epic and almost medieval melodies were nothing like the folk/black metal of his peers at the time. Compared with demos like Windir‘s ‘Sogneriket’ or Thyrfing‘s ‘Solen Svartnar’ from the same time Vratyas‘ work was fully formed, conceptual, and instantly recognizable as Falkenbach.

My discovery of ‘…En Their Medh Riki Fara…’ was actually a random selection from a friend’s black metal collection after being given full reign to explore ‘the classics’. My understanding of what viking metal was didn’t matter to me at that point and black metal was a vague connection at best. Falkenbach are able to transcend ‘genre entry’ status through distinct and superior songwriting regardless of which combination of three sub-genres they represent. Their debut represents a unique form of folk and viking metal fused with what is perhaps their most aggressively black metal recording. Vratyas‘ modus as a musician focuses on mood, varietal leading instrumentation, and this creates an experience where no song passes by without a ‘hook’ or chorale that is meaningfully placed.

What might have seemed corny and low-budget at first quickly became surreal for me as a listener. Each listen was more inspiring than the last and through decades the melodies from this, and his five other full-lengths, implanted in my mind. It was succinct and powerful compared to much of Quorthon‘s long-winded early vision of viking metal, it took on more moods than Enslaved‘s brilliant ‘Frost’ and used keyboards in a way that made me drop all of my Old Man’s Child CD’s in the bargain bin. I came to appreciate the simply programmed, slightly artificial sounding, drums and the use of unique keyboard instrumentation. It all flows together beautifully but represents an early work of genius and to many it is seen as a demo that was not fully realized. In fact most of these songs were re-recorded as bonus tracks or for the ‘Heralding – The Fireblade’ release in 2005. Even though many prefer the higher fidelity of re-recordings, I have endless love for the unique sound and growling black metal edge of this debut.

Too often the blade-crossing of black metal and folk metal has been offered as a ‘beauty and the beast’ juxtaposition of harsh coldness and ebullient pagan pride and the reason I tend to gravitate towards Vratyas‘ grasp of this mixture is because he found a way to blend the two without losing any fealty to either side. Through some greater earnest fealty to Germanic paganism, ‘…En Their Medh Riki Fara…’ is thematically devotional to the medieval skaldic traditions outlined in the Sæmundar Edda (notably sourcing the poetic Edda) a 13th century text detailing the most complete and early source on Norse mythology. Falkenbach is both sincere and academic in their treatment of these themes and it is worth noting that few folk or viking metal bands are as respectful of these themes.

The important thing to emphasize here apart from the glorious thematic, heroic solo multi-instrumentalist high-conception, distinct production and pioneering style is again the effective mind-worming melodies available throughout ‘…En Their Medh Riki Fara…’. This is music that I retreat into not only recalibrate my taste but also to recover from the wounds that the world increasingly offers as I age. It is regenerative and inspiring in sound and this aspect would increase tenfold as Falkenbach‘s discography continued towards their own pure brand of viking/folk metal that rescinded a great deal of black metal aggression shortly after.

Though I’ve devoted so much of my life to listening to heavy metal only a small handful of releases truly possess my being and serve as respite and personal guidance. In this sense Falkenbach act as publishers of ‘spiritual’ mantra that I willfully subscribe to. I have no major fealty to the majority of folk/black/viking metal but I jump at the chance to hear any music affected by Falkenbach‘s sphere of influence. I highly suggest absorbing ‘…En Their Medh Riki Fara…’ as a starting point for a viking/folk/black metal discography offering sublimely hypnotic melody, sanity and spiritual sincerity.

Artist Falkenbach
Type Album
Released July 29, 1996
BUY from No Colours Records Follow Falkenbach on Facebook
Viking Metal,
Black Metal,
Folk Metal

Shadows of the horses hooves. 4.5/5.0

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