One of the lovely things about coming over to TINAS in the wake of the demise of Alternative Matter (whose mandate I dearly loved) and subsequent amalgamation with ThisIsNotAScene, is that now I suddenly find myself presented with the opportunity to sift through the back catalogue and review some albums that I loved, but did not have the opportunity to officially review, when they were first released.
Metsatöll are an Estonian folk metal band whose name means “wolf” in colloquia Estonian. Much of their lyrical content comes from Estonia’s battles for independence in the 13th and 14th centuries. “Ulg” is their second album with Spinefarm Records, the first being 2010’s “Äio”. They display greater versatility and a refinement of their sound on their latest, “Ulg”, which was originally released in August of 2011.
Metsatöll communicate a lot in the first song of this album, “Daybreak,” beginning with the traditional, an almost trilling passage played on what sounds like a spinet. Then, the listener gradually becomes aware of a thumping, like a knock at the door, at first throbbing along to the music and then gradually falling out of rhythm, becoming discordant, demanding attention. This throb becomes the drum line, and the heaviness swells, replacing the tinkling keys with electric guitar.
One of the key parts of Metsatöll‘s sound has always been the vocal performance. Their vocalist, Markus Teeäär, has a very distinct, throaty, guttural voice. He sounded forced on ‘Äio’, almost awkward, but here on “Ulg”, he has improved his vocal performance dramatically. While his voice still sounds like that of a general shouting orders, he now has a greater grasp of his voice’s musicality as well as its power, and is an asset to the sound, immersive rather than distracting.
Metsatöll‘s use of folk instruments is very well integrated, a necessary aspect of the sound. There are some particularly beautiful flute passages that often duel with the guitars, a rapier point pitched against a great sword, such as during ‘Muhu Dread’. They also manage to construct a compelling narrative despite all the lyrics being in Estonian, and do a remarkable job of conveying themselves musically, through tone, atmosphere and emotional timbre. As a listener, I never felt shut out or like there was something I was missing. In any language, Metsatöll tell a brilliant story, and that is to be commended.