To be a fool who’d only ever misunderstood art from birth to death should be the harshest soul-stirring fear shared among the steadily safe, warm and fed among us. This core belief fuels great anxieties in any pair of well-connected eyes spinning ’round the room whilst alone with an obscure piece of music that’d serve as a shove into whatever dark unknown being it’d conjure. Darting up and down the columns of Heorot, figuring my way through cosmic Vedic triumph, experiencing genealogical meditation by way of Germanic folk standards, and finally arresting beneath a spirit’s cry to be freed from the shadow of death (in Elvish) I’d finally begin to feel like the intricacies of this German folk-guided traditional heavy metal EP began to unwind unto greater meaning.
Stuttgart warmed trio Grendel’s Sÿster mean to communicate a dire-yet-resolute bigger picture through mythos, tradition, and parable on their second EP ‘Myrtle Wreath / Myrtenkranz’ and I’d, at least initially, felt it couldn’t be such a complex beast to unburden; Upon first glance its jigging neatness, chest-filling harmonies, and tumbling epic heavy metal guitar gallops read exactly as they should: Folk rock presence and traditional ‘epic’ heavy metal accompaniment. Fair enough, but there is some (relative) considerable depth here and if it wasn’t meant to be excavated and understood they’d not have recorded it in two languages! It is that heroic sort of heavy metal all the same, the sort of songs Slough Feg and Solstice were writing in the late 90’s stripped down into ditties driven by harmony and a vaguely ‘live’ feeling early Maiden presence. As a vessel for meaning this purely ‘present’ presentation of performance should express as a harvest festival appearance in full, a busk at a market, a public television showcase funded by the arts.
“Vishnu’s Third Stride” a reference to Vishnu’s telemetry between heaven and Earth, winning rule over the universe from Bali and volleying him fairly to the underworld, begins with a couple of runs that sound more like Kawir riffs than any folkish trad metal band I could conjure; It resolves into a ruddy ‘Ape Uprising!’ worthy jig as the lead guitars redirect but that opening salvo is yet one of my favorite moments on the record. “Little Wildling Bird” is the first of two folk standards that are likely more recognizable for German fellowes and the German version (“Wildvögelein“) flows just a bit more naturally despite feeling a bit more wordy. Ah, right, I did mention Grendel’s Sÿster have included both English and German language versions of this EP as they did with their previous EP (‘Orphic Gold Leaves / Orphische Goldblättchen‘, 2018). Much as I loved Caro‘s performances in her first language the English-sung version is the natural choice for me. That wildling bird could act an affirmation toward art and not greed, compounded by another folk standard, “Graf und Nonne“, (“Count and Nun”) again referencing a whip to the blood-laced pockets of manifest destiny. “Indra’s Jewelled Net” comes as the final suture, an epic taking from Homer, the Mahābhārata, Tolkien, and East Asian Buddhism. Wait, have you pieced it together yet?
The wish at its core, it seems, is that the light might balance away from total darkness. Of gods and other imagined magic parables from times most ‘ignorant’ comes a sense that enlightenment is yet unchanging, unyielding and simple. “Entropic Petroglyphs” prods at this a bit, describing a time of great beasts that mankind would conquer in numbers. Naturally I’m inclined to suggest the great beast is now man, that the truly physical predators among us fought themselves dead these last few thousand years and we’re left with a mess of chaotic, easily swayed and temperamental brains-in-jars leading grotesquely violent masses of minds as a result. No? It’ll take many more pages and many more albums, sure. Well, even if I’ve gleaned nothing beyond a web of my own nonsense whilst lightly scouring these intellectual protests against nihilistic resignation, Grendel’s Sÿster provide a fantastical and consistently inspiring bout of epic heavy metal with a folk-graced soul that held great value in my own experience these last couple of months. Charming and unassuming depth.
Moderately high recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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