Sonic Cathedral - 9.5/10

Written by Doctor T..

Echoes of the Wolf is the first full length release from the French Celtic folk metal band Fenrir. We reviewed a previous EP a couple years ago, it showed great promise and I’m glad to report that this full release does, in fact, validate that promise. Now originally, I was a little unclear how a French band got this heavy into the Celtic, I mean not only is the music clearly reflective of that direction, but the band tends to appear fully outfitted in kilts. The answer, of course, from a historic perspective, is that Celtic culture covers a lot of territory in Europe, and my understanding is that there were as many Celts in Central Europe as in the British Isles throughout history. In fact, current understanding is that of the six "Celtic nations" that retained significant numbers of Celtic speakers, a significant number are found in the West of France. It’s just a little difficult to understand that reality given that most of us, especially Americans, associate the Celtic with the Irish and Scottish cultures. Musically, I suspect a lot of the direction has to do with vocalist, violinist Elsa Thouvenot who plays a major part in most of the music. Her vocal clearly reflects a soprano you might expect from a Celtic direction, and the violin places additional influence to that musical concept. The CD provides a lot of music, some 15 tracks with sufficient variety to continue the interest. I wouldn’t say every track meets the definition of a Celtic style but most are pretty close. You occasionally get something that’s a little more metal in nature, The Battle of Stirling, for instance. But, if you know your history, even this has to be associated with the more general interpretation of the concept. You also get some purely instrumental work, much of it also sounding a bit Green in nature. Pavane, however, shows a different capability. Here we get a haunting interpretation of the Celtic sound with a limited guitar that takes us to a choral vocal, which leads to an interplay of the guitar with the violin. You can almost see ol’ King Arthur and the boys, or would that be a French king in this instance, hanging at the palace and drinking with the lasses. Well, either way, it captures a picture and a feeling, one that proves satisfying in every respect.

If I had to pick one characteristic of this CD that defined it, it might actually be the diversity of sounds. Of course, I would also point to other factors, strong song writing, the strong vocals, especially those of Elsa, exceptional guitar work, the string work, so much to appreciate. And, if you are one of those who appreciate Celtic music in general, this music has to be especially pleasing. But, beyond that, there is the meshing of the Celtic with the metal. You don’t really get it on every track, although it is a pronounced part of the music. But, there is a sufficient amount of metal to keep the metal heads happy, and keep the Celtic metal heads in heaven. The band actually presents two violinists, both female, so you know there’s going to be a lot of that approach to the music. And, on most tracks, the violin does seem to drive much of the action. However, the guitars get theirs as well, band founder Sylvere cranks a mean axe when the occasion calls for it and other times uses it as a backup sound. Drums are more typically Celtic in nature, on some tracks they reflect what we might interpret as a traditional folk sound. They’re there, but often not as obvious as what we get with a heavier metal direction.

Beyond the music it would be inappropriate not to mention the topics addressed in the music. Celtic, and folk music in general, tends to tell a story and this music tends to meet that requirement with flair. The themes can range from the classical to the historical with stops at mythological topics and some that are clearly French in nature. Among the classical areMacBeth, you remember him right? Well, the band is about as unkind to him as Shakespeare was and for good reason, the dude was a less than sterling personality. Musically, this one has some haunting guitar, and some killer violin to get us in the mood for murder and mayhem. Vocals begin as a group effort, maybe reflecting that witches thing from the story. But Elsa tells the tale, and it ain’t a pretty one:

Now that the crime is done 
I cannot wash the blood from my hands 
Driven to madness is my soul, Banquo 
Your ghost is chasing me 
Burning my sanity.

Damn, that gets really close to the classical Gothic. Wonder if that’s what Shakespeare had in mind.

The Battle of Stirling is more in line with the historical. You know this one, right? William Wallace doing his thing with the dastardly English. This was a biggie, every Scott knows the story by heart and so does everyone who saw the movie. . . about 30 times. Again the music begins with a heavy guitar surge, gotta get in the mood for some sword swinging. We even get a heavy drum line here, keeps the troops fired up. And lyrically the story doesn’t disappoint. Elsa tells us the brutal facts over a Celtic violin:

Ane by ane they did cross the Brig o’ Stirling 
Still they onward came 
Here where William Wallace waited 
Tae fight ‘em o’the Brig o’Stirling 
Then Wallace men came on the Brig o’ Stirling 
Stubbed the English host 
There Moray cut Cressingham doon 
Tae slay them o’ the Brig o’Stirling

There are other directions to the music. Prancing Poney is an instrumental, pure Celtic. The kind of music that keeps every Celtic bar in business, and I was in one last night. Heavy on the violin and with a sound that is purely reflective of this type of music. If you love your Celtic roustabout, this one will work for you, no one sits still for this kind of music. Fenrir may be the best interpretation of the multiple musical elements on the CD. You get some metal, some great guitars, meshed with the strong violins, all supporting a first rate vocal. This one speaks to the wolf, which, after all, is what this CD is all about:

Ancient wisdom / Announces Ragnarok 
Bad omens forsee / This fateful day 
When Loki’s son awakes / To get his revenge

Fenrir has presented us with a unique musical experience. It’s solid on so many fronts, you get the multiple lyrical threads, you get a variety of musical sounds, and you get cultural representations from a variety of locals. But, in the end, you get first rate music. It was worth the wait.

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