Author: Larry Best
(Maple Metal Records, 2015)
#FOR FANS OF: Folk Metal, Eluveitie, Finntroll
From the bowels of New York - the home of many thrash metal legends - comes a ... folk metal band? I was taken aback to learn that these Eluveitie-sound-a-likes hail not from Scandinavia or Eastern Europe, like so many peers of their style - but from the good ol' United States! Yonder Realm, having released demos/EPs/singles etc. throughout their 6-year existence, finally managed to release their debut full-length album in August 2014. This quintet play absolutely nothing original or innovative - but have joyfully nailed the niche folk metal sound. Folk metal is a difficult sub-genre in which to be distinctive. But the production quality of 'The Old Ways' doesn't adhere to the usual demands of a folk metal album. The authentic folk instruments, as beautifully played as they are, are slightly kept behind in the mix. This gives them an eerie, mystical quality - separating this band from the silly jig-along bands like Beer Bear and Slartibartfass. The rhythm section is the most prominent here. The double-strum rhythm guitar playing fuses with the bass and drums to provide a weighty backdrop to the anthemic melodies that gloss over the top. This shows that their style evolved through the more melo-death-influenced area of folk metal, rather than the black metal characteristics of bands like Equilibrium or Moonsorrow. Jesse McGunnigle's vocals are what help to highlight this melo-death influence. He sounds remarkably similar to Chrigel Glanzmann from Eluveitie, and this is no insult! His growls helps push the songs forward in an almost percussive manner - and he becomes truly expressive in tracks such as "Sea of Cosmos" and "Pillars of Creation". As a bonus, there is the occasional use of melodic backing vocals, adding yet another magical layer to this tour de folk! 'The Old Ways' is perfectly structured. The artwork lends its atmosphere most appropriately, the tracks are properly ordered - containing a beautiful interlude and ending on the epic finale of "Moonbeam Road", and the use of unconventional instruments is truly inspiring. Listen closely and you'll hear flutes, violins, marimbas, accordions...the whole lot! Such a diverse timbre allows for maximum replay value. It's hard to pick highlights from this incredibly consistent record. "A Devil's Unweaving"doesn't let go of your melted face for its entirety, "Sacrifice to the Old Stone Gods" is the epitome of a folk metal anthem, and "The Frugivores" is almost Gojira-esque with its primal percussion and gang chanting. Not one track space is wasted - even the mystical interlude, "The Grove", plays an essential part in this shimmering tower of excellence. More focused than Finntroll, less pompous than Adavant, and providing an atmosphere similar to that of Cruachan, 'The Old Ways' is sure to whet the appetite of any folk metal fan from Poland to Pennsylvania.