So: for the better part of five(!) months, my attention has been almost entirely absent from the overwhelming world of new metal releases. Sitting precariously on the edge of burnout, I spent most of my time listening to non-metal genres and ignoring, with no small amount of guilt, the massive glut of undoubtedly excellent music piling up in the ol' promo pit here at the Sleeping Village.
To cut a long story short: a few weeks ago, I listened (many, many times) to an album that would inevitably serve as a light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since making the duo's acquaintance upon the release of their (exceptionally promising) first EP, I had been eagerly awaiting the debut full length from Edinburgh's Hand of Kalliach. To not listen immediately upon its release felt absolutely criminal.
And so here we are, discussing the album responsible for my return to reviewing. Samhainn is uniquely vibrant and charming in a way that makes me excited about metal again. This behemoth is borderline indescribable in its display of intrigue and bombast. Let's get into it, shall we?
Despite containing a whole lot of familiar elements, Hand of Kalliach's brand of melodeath-by-way-of-folk-metal is exceedingly difficult to define. A furious--and often churning--sense of aggression is apparent in the galloping groove-laden riffage, rolling drums, and John's aurochian harsh bellows. In contrast, the shimmering melodicism portrayed in the leads and Sophie's gorgeous cleans present the perfect foil. This is a startlingly dynamic album, built on the implicit play between seemingly disparate elements. While every track is beautifully distinct, if you heard the incredible lead single "Cinders" earlier this summer, you know the general lay of the land. If you're unfamiliar, go listen to that absolute fuckin' barn-burnerimmediately. What a godlike track, but yet it doesn't even stand out among the pack. I couldn't reliably name a favorite track under fear of death, and that is a mark of a truly great album, if e'er there was.
Folk metal (and melodeath as well, to be fair) all too often gets lost in the weeds of its own extravagant aesthetic, like unto a straight-to-paperback fantasy novel with a bad case of scenery-over-story. Here, however, Hand of Kalliach consistently write songs that possess a decidedly epic quality without every losing that remarkable sense of grounded sincerity. Notably, the Celtic elements aren't window dressing--everything herein feels instantly authentic. The most high-flying displays of Sophie's ethereal vocals would feel untethered and distant in the hands of your average songwriter, but here, they serve to accentuate rather than distract. There are so many quality moments that would suffice to demonstrate, but look to the back half of "Solas Neònach" or the chorus of "Roil" as prime examples. Both balance the seemingly disparate aesthetics with a rare grace, moving forth with a total cohesion. The glistening pomp and bombast is thrilling and necessary rather than a gimmicky afterthought undermining the overall aggression. Similarly, the glorious climatic moments where Hand of Kalliach unleash beastly ferocity feel even more powerful by benefit of the dynamic composition. When it comes to maintaining interest and keeping the audience hooked, Samhainn succeeds incredibly well. And while the "switch to haunting vocals and then hit 'em with the thunderous vitriol" strategy would stale quickly in lesser hands, it never feels like Hand of Kalliach show all of their cards. Everything is fresh, and that is a beautiful quality.
Y'know that feeling of witnessing the genesis of something truly significant? There's a magic and a wonder associated with the potency of potential. While this album is, in this scribe's opinion, an absolute smash, part of my enjoyment stems from the implicit fact that Hand of Kalliach are perfectly poised to make it big. Folk metal thrives when it is bolstered by unbridled energy, and the consistent and clever use of contrast across the breadth makes for a highly engaging listen. This album has made a substantial splash here and elsewhere for very good reason, and I'm excited to see Hand of Kalliach's popularity continue to grow. They are on the cusp of something great, and that you can print.
Hand of Kalliach could have gone half as hard and I'd still be singing this album's praises. Indeed, the only complaint I can muster is that the last track, "Return to Stone," ends ever so abruptly, resulting in a "wait, the album is over?!" moment. In sum, however, this is a damn near perfect debut album, a magical and heartwarming piece of art that went far beyond my expectations. Samhainn is certainly one of my favorite releases of the year across a wide breadth of utterly unrelated genres. Needless to say: highly recommended!
If you've got the cash to spare, pick up Samhainn on bandcamp for a ridiculously fair price. I sincerely doubt you'll regret it.
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.