MORRIGAN – Anwynn (2022)REVIEW

A wash of water tossed upon a slab in proffer of divine adventure. — Returning for their eighth album and first in nine years Großbettlingen, Germany-borne (and I believe now Finland-based) epic/pagan black metal duo Morrigan have weathered the overcast skies and dead-eyed masses of today with admirable strength upheld as they reappear out of thinnest air with what could be considered a great work in ‘Anwynn‘. Shining the light of the otherworld in the eyes of we falsest loathers by compare with no complacency or torpor in their craft, this auld legendry force return wisened and inspired perhaps more than ever with this fine if not entirely niche craft mastered in the old tradition.

Morrigan is the essential continuation of Mayhemic Truth, a black metal band that’d formed between two southern German fellowes in 1992 as they produced an irregular, tumultuous variety of recordings ’til 1999 wherein their style went from Samael-esque black/doom with what I’d consider death metal vocals on ‘Son of Dawn‘ (1993) to a sound which was pulled directly from late 80’s Bathory by the time guitarist, vocalist, bassist and lyricist Beliar had evolved his vision to suit evolving capabilities and tastes. Chances are if you aren’t the sort of dick who snubs your nose at German black metal and enjoy groups like Ungod an Martyrium you’ve likely at least heard the ‘In Memoriam‘ (1999) compilation which isolated the final stage of the band before splitting up. You won’t find any original writing on the situation beyond this point, from yours truly or otherwise, since the reunited state of Beliar and drummer Balor (Blizzard) produced elite and unabashed Bathory worship from that point on starting with their incredible first album (‘Plague, Waste and Death‘, 2001) serving as the band’s ideation of ‘Blood Fire Death‘ and the well-underrated ‘Enter the Sea of Flames‘ (2002) acting as a first stomp towards the ‘Hammerheart‘-era vikingr (but still black metal) side of the band, to the delight of anyone who’d been keen enough on Barbarian Wraith releases of that era.

The original fire stoked between the two musicians would expand and contract in terms of line-up over the course of four more full-length albums (and a split with heralded Nocternity) in the space of four years. Now, most folks will prattle on about how ‘Celts‘ (2003) was their full transition into viking/black metal, or, Celtic mythos themed pagan metal as it actually were but this is the result of short attention spans or foggy memories because the harsh, thrashing fray of their sound took some time to transition away. ‘Headcult‘ (2005) dealt in much more atmosphere and emphasized clean-sung vocals much in the vein of Graveland of a similar era but they’d never truly fallen to the easy-listening sort of Falkenbach side of things, eh, which is not a derogatory observation in either direction, until they were a couple of albums into their Undercover Records partnership. As a fan of everything Quorthon-esque I’d discovered the band through their first couple of albums and the aforementioned split just prior to their return with ‘Diananns Whisper‘ in 2013 and that’d be the right album to set the expectations for ‘Anwynn‘ in terms of stoic, atmospheric and largely slow to mid-paced viking metal hymnals heavily inspired by the melodramatic, humble bardic tradition of ‘Twilight of the Gods‘. If you’d already had your fill of ’em in the late 2000’s or didn’t like the rawness of the previous album there may yet be plenty magick to be regaled with here quite a few years later on what could consider a strong application of the wisdom afforded by time.

Ah, and by that I mean Beliar has refined his clean vocals, expanded his use of harmonization and stretched the tuneful limits of his timbre without losing the sombre overstretched yarning of Quorthon ever in mind. Synths are a bit bigger and atmospherically set, ‘clean’ guitar tones often accentuate epic melodies with the rhythm guitars hanging beneath and as far as I’ve gathered the only big change to staff since 2014 is the addition of drummer Impudicus (Totalselfhatred, ex-Ordinance) whom is nimble by direct comparison with Balor‘s thresher-whipped, aggressive style. You’ll still need to be the sort of fellowe who loves Bathory‘s cinema-minded, grandiose viking metal classics as prerequisite to sign up for the experience, though, I mean you aren’t going to make it through the double-epic feature of “Herald of the Sleep” and (my favorite song of the lot) “White as Snow” if you’re no friend of this very specific vocal style, though we do find some tempered use of deeper growls and rasping narrative throughout.

With “Blind Witch” and “Feoladaire” hitting in the crucial midway point on the full listen it begins to feel like Beliar is taking stock of what Morrigan did best in the momentum of their first several years beyond Mayhemic Truth‘s 1996 demo as these songs feel like a step back into the realization of those efforts on ‘Enter the Sea of Flames‘. These songs showcase some of the aforementioned wisdom in action as the artist can still burn through an beauteous epic/pagan metal piece while giving their raw, aggressive side a proper vikingr spin, leaving a unique dent in mind with their efforts. This is the point where Morrigan begin to convince me that they’ve taken a worthy step taken beyond ‘Diananns Whisper‘ and, as we push on to Side B, the verdict becomes that for my own taste this is the best release from the band since ‘Headcult‘.

Though I don’t have the lyric sheet or more than a basic understanding of what ‘Anwynn‘ dictates within its larger narrative, I have spent a couple of months re-reading through Middle-Welsh epics/collections the Mabinogion and the Book of Taliesin this year, so, references to Ceridwen, Donn and the general Celtic otherworld mythos are clear enough in the album’s exploration of the “afterlife.” Where this narrative comes to life most (again, without lyrics) is in the final third of the running order where a consistent ‘epic’ viking metal thread is woven through “Taech Duinn”, “Rome” and closer “Ivy” with the melodicism and performative values appear to double with each piece. These songs do not feature a strong raw black metal notion in mind, erring toward the ethereally striding sort of pace as they explore the ever-aggrandizing statements of this traditional early 90’s viking metal sound yet the melodies of “Ivy” do take us to a peak send-off statement, a truly bardic piece in terms of its folken vocal narrative’s inspired dance of melody. At this high point of performance we find ‘Anwynn‘ stepping beyond a rad Bathory-alike procession and into a passionate work which stands to justify all of the hammering away which Morrigan have been doing since long before this ‘epic’ style had held any water within all but the smallest niche ear.

As a listening experience the major thirds of ‘Anwynn‘ ease in their challenge of amateur-yet-earnest metal fortitude in diminish. The opening moments which set up the opus of it all represent a jarring return to this sound, which very few ever get even nearly this right, and the middle/later thirds of the tracklist warm to the touch with their inspiration. A death ’til otherworld experience in truth and, much like ‘Diananns Whisper‘ a decade ago, I’d found it a bit naïve upon introduction and moving in its finish with the compulsion to listen on repeat only intensifying over time for the sake of (again) next to nothing ‘proper’ being done to this standard in this style. Anyhow, something especially fine and inspired for the true Bathory cult and likely nobody else. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (76/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Werewolf Records
RELEASE DATE:June 24th, 2022

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