(In this 52nd edition of THE SYNN REPORT, Andy Synn reviews the album-length discography to date of Colorado’s The Flight of Sleipnir, whose forthcoming fifth album will be reviewed in a subsequent post.)
Recommended for fans of: Agalloch, Moonsorrow, The Gates of Slumber
Forgive me oh readers, for I have not Synned…
That’s right. The entire month of October went by without a single edition of The Synn Report to please your eyes and ears with a taste of new and/or under-appreciated music. And for that I must apologise. Between work, travel, and some crazy nights out… I just haven’t had chance to sit down and set metaphorical pen to paper. Until now.
The Flight of Sleipnir is the brainchild of two individuals, David Csiscely (Drums, Vocals, Guitars) and Clayton Cushman (Guitars, Vocals, Bass, Keyboards), two men joined together by a clear and passionate love of heavy metal, heartfelt melody, and heroic Norse folklore.
With four albums to their name – and a fifth, V., soon to be released (expect the review for that by the end of the week – the pair have certainly managed to craft themselves a distinctive sound over the years, whose earth-shaking, doomy power and sombre, progressive inclinations incorporate binding threads of folk-inflected melody and slithering strands of blackened fury.
Whole segments of their material aren’t strictly metallic at all, comprising lengthy acoustic passages and folkish murmurations, where smooth chords ripple and plucked strings sing out clear notes of melody and harmony. Yet when these guys do go heavy they do so with some serious conviction, their brawny riffage and booming drums providing the backing for a characterful mix of ravaged, throaty roars and stirring, cleanly-sung harmonies.
ALGIZ + BERKANAN – 2009
Clearly not lacking in ambition, “Algiz”, the first song on the band’s debut album, clocks in at a hefty 18:56, it’s truly epic run-time allowing the duo to progress through a series of grandiose movements, weaving an epic tale of wonder and woe along the way.
Beginning with the ringing strains of an aged, almost archaic acoustic melody, the track eventually blossoms into a conflagration of strident riffage and agile drum-work, topped off with some truly evocative interplay between cleanly crooned vocals and harsh, blackened rasps. Moments of acoustic contemplation and soaring, guitar-led melody ebb and flow like wine and water, their proggy tinges and folky touches all serving to expand the palette of light and sound with which the band paint their epic vision.
As the track progresses through each new chapter, the careful balance between beautiful melody and bestial fury continues unabated, the two elements coexisting in a state of perfect harmony. The band’s epic ambition on this track is tempered only by their keen sense of restraint and their creative song-writing abilities, moving from gloaming ambience to righteous fury, to a stark and stripped back finale of bleak acoustic melody.
“Birchfire”, by contrast, is a more compact beast, though no less nuanced for it, melding grand, doomy riffs and rattling drums with a series of haunting vocal parts and bleak acoustic sections, all wrapped in a sombre atmosphere of sublime melancholy.
The compelling, primal rhythms that underlie “Four Winters” delve deep into the listener’s subconscious, undulating waves of metallic grandeur and melodic glory cresting and subsiding with patient power and grace, before a series of progressive lead guitar melodies and solemn, almost choral, vocals bring the track to a close.
The climactic pairing of “Berkanan” and “Entombed in Earth” sees the album off in fine fashion, offering up tantalising hints as to the musical wonders yet to come in the band’s future. The dreamy, instrumental haze of the former transitions seamlessly into the progressive, hypnotic strains of the latter, where a slowly winding stream of reverberant riffs and ethereal melodies – both vocal and guitar-driven – weaves its way towards the song’s mammoth, tooth-grinding and riff-heavy conclusion.
LORE – 2010
Bigger, brasher, and bolder, the band’s second album begins with the irresistible grooves of “Legends”, it’s bullish, Crowbar-esque riffs and fiery drum work laying down a dense and doomy foundation for the bleak procession of aching cleans and aggressive snarls which follow, as the song moves back and forth between bruising, belligerent riffage and interludes of progressive, folky ambience, leading up to a grandiose, climactic solo.
The beginning of “Of Words and Ravens” builds some brilliant melodic tension, rippling acoustic chords and whispering harmonies building and binding together into moments of towering, majestic riffage and ascendant lead work, the song’s prominent and melancholy clean vocals matched here and there by a cracked scream of ageless anguish.
“Asgardreid” is a wordless amalgam of complex drum work and dark acoustic melody weaving together layers of simple beauty and heroic atmosphere, which leads into the morose and haunted opening bars of “Fenrisulfr”. From this desolate beginning the song swiftly metamorphoses into an altogether different creature, transforming into a doom-encrusted storm of harsh, blackened vocals and riff-based thunder, pierced here and there by sudden flashes of evocative, electrifying melody and dark, brooding ambience.
The first several minutes of “The End Begun” consist of a gorgeous sequence of warm acoustic chords and energetic harmonies, before an eerie ambient interlude allows the track to transition into its gloomy, majestically metallic second half. The graceful strings and elegant vocal melodies of “Black Swans” follow, building slowly and then retreating, only to return once more to a series of thrillingly grandiose peaks, where gravelly guitars thrust ever upwards and graceful clean vocals soar ever higher, seeking fulfilment and freedom from their earthly shackles.
The progressively inclined, blackened antagonism of “No Man Will Spare Another” is a more aggressive, more doom-laden affair than its predecessor, though that’s not to say that it’s in any way been stripped of the band’s characteristic subtlety and nuance. The crashing drums and roiling riffs are interspersed with moments of graceful acoustic melody, ebbing and flowing like the rising and falling of the tides.
The teasing strains of “Winter Nocturne” provide passage into the lilting, hypnotic doom of “Let Us Drink Till We Die”, whose regal grandeur and gorgeous grasp of harmony between the dual male and female vocals brings the album to an utterly perfect conclusion.
ESSENCE OF NINE – 2011
“Transcendence” starts things off in suitably epic fashion, its grandiose leads and ringing chords slowly giving way to a soothing series of drifting melodies, before a furore of thrumming, electrified riffs and scarred, blackened vocals erupts into existence, bristling with energy and life. The song climaxes with a penultimate, Pink Floyd-ian solo, which leads into a brilliantly melodious clean vocal refrain, before the solemn strains of “Upon This Path We Tread” weave themselves out of the ether.
The song’s powerful, yet restrained, riffs provide a perfect backing for a series of emotive clean vocals, as it marches onwards with primal purpose to the beat of David Csicsely’s enigmatic drum-work.
The nimble, finger-picked opening to “A Thousand Stones” eventually gives way to an oceanic swell of raucous, elemental riffs, flowing hooks and forlorn clean vocals, leading to a forceful and blisteringly aggressive conclusion.
Scintillating instrumental “As Ashes Rise (The Embrace of Dusk)” is a thing of almost perfect beauty, conjuring an aura of sublime stillness and ancient wisdom with its warmly plucked, reverberant strings and effortless acoustic harmonies, leading into the sparse and mournful majesty of “Nine Worlds”.
The first few minutes of the track are a softly spoken meditation on the passage of time, building to a riotous explosion of thunderous, doomy riffage and spiralling, indulgent lead guitar work, as the pair jam out their inner demons and old-school influences with shameless abandon, building to the song’s uplifting, outstanding, conclusion.
Layer upon layer of melody and elegant ambience come together to comprise “The Seer in White”, and it’s almost two minutes until the aching glamour of the track’s clean vocals come into play, giving time for the subtle guitars and fluid drums to weave their magic. Even when the track turns up the distortion, a grandiose undercurrent of mournful mood and melancholy melodicism remains.
Gripping, folk-infused instrumental “As Cinders Burn (The Wake of Dawn)” provides a short interlude prior to the grand climax of “The Serpent Ring”, five and a half minutes of growling, doomy desolation and haunting melodic vibrations, ending in a churning, tumultuous conclusion of heaving, lurching riffs and crashing, clattering drums.
SAGA – 2013
The duo’s fourth album begins with the rolling, rollicking drums and pulsing riffs of “Prologue”, vocals switching back and forth between a caustic blackened snarl and a soothing, melodious croon, before moving swiftly into the calm, hypnotising strains of “Reaffirmation”, which drifts dreamily along on waves of proggy, ambient harmony.
Archaic and enchanting, “Reverence” spends several minutes exploring a stream of alluring acoustic patterns and clean-sung melodies, eventually introducing a restrained and gloomy electric backing, leading into the doom-touched, pitch-black grooves of “Harrowing Desperation” whose rattling drums and thrumming riffs ring out with potent, progressive power beneath layers of captivating clean vocals and harsh, rasping snarls.
“Heavy Rest The Chains of the Damned” begins life as a beguiling acoustic hymn of undulating guitars and solemn singing, and ends as a truly evocative and enthralling progressive instrumental, while “Judgement” ups the doom quotient drastically, its hanging chords and reverberant bass-lines crafting a choking cloud of shadow and sorrow, shot through with lightning cracks of blackened aggression and piercing melody.
“Demise Carries With It A Song” gallops along with dark energy and vibrancy, its fuzzy, distorted riffs and agile, twisting drums building to a monumental melodic denouement of sombre clean singing and fluid, progressive soloing.
“The Mountain” is a slow-burning passage of haunting vocals and eerie, bleak guitar work that flows languidly into the thunderous doom of “Hour of Cessation” – all grumbling distortion and booming percussive power, intermingled with a series of raw-throated screams and bewitching clean vocals.
The closing triumvirate of “Remission”, “Beneath Red Skies”, and “Epilogue” sum up all sides and facets of the band’s sound. The linear harmonic currents of “Remission” lead smoothly into the calamitous doom of “Beneath Red Skies”, its audacious riffage and choppy drum work laying down a fiery foundation for moments of melodic grandeur and burning zeal.
It all culminates in the epic majesty of “Epilogue”, which moves seamlessly from restrained, minimalist intimacy through moments of monolithic, towering doom and artful, progressive ambition, to bring the whole thing to a truly unforgettable conclusion.