Chevalier - Destiny Calls - (10/10)
Published on April 12, 2019
Don’t need your morals and rules
Don’t think of normal knights. The kind of stories you’ve heard about King Arthur form very much the censored version of those medieval times. Don’t consider the possibility of honour or courtly love or miracles. Open your mind to the reality that a knight was a man with a big sword who was given the authority to act in the name of the King. How do people wield this kind of power when they cannot be witnessed in their daily acts? By killing, raping, and pillaging where they wish, as Chevalier announced very clearly with the song of the same name on debut EP A Call to Arms:
Don’t need your morals and rules
I’m a free warrior of these lands
No laws of your doomed empire
Will tie me down again.
Two years later, the knight rides again, already blustering his way to a full-length after a pair of EPs and a split, and as the lead-off track of Destiny Calls proves, walling men up alive can be added to his list of sins. Fall in line with the crown? Absolutely not!
For anyone who hasn’t yet witnessed Chevalier in all their grotty glory, here’s why the Finnish band is so special. They play epic medieval speed metal. Well. Very well indeed. Are there any other epic medieval speed metal bands which we can compare their sound to? How inconsequential it seems to mention that Ranger, Legionnaire, or early ADX give some basis for comparison when Chevalier have at least as much in common with the unlikely trio of Mercyful Fate, Manilla Road, and Darkthrone. How can this be? Because Emma Grönqvist is unafraid of a high wail or three, the riffing is frequently adventurous beyond the usual speed metal peripheries, and the miasma of grimness that descends over all the band’s recordings seems like a direct link to the dark past. Even the cover art of Destiny Calls sets this quintet a world away from their peers, depicting in detailed starkness just the sort of be(k)nighted themes that drive the urges of the music.
One thing only appears to distract the attention from the otherworldly surge of electricity generated by these songs. Four interludes – this bears repetition – four interludes break up six lengthy songs, both introducing and waving farewell to the album, as well as providing two suggestively-named preludes to “Stormbringer” and “A Warrior’s Lament”. Does a 45 minute album really need these scattered ashes to distract from the main event? Arguably not when Destiny Calls wields no excessive length, though the insertions facilitate passage through a forest of six and seven minute songs played out at high speed, which may otherwise thoroughly exhaust attention before the climax. Allowing the listener a graceful (if perfunctory) portal away from and then back to the real world also shows a compassion not otherwise obvious in Chevalier’s demeanour. Perhaps the final judgement comes down to a single question: do these interludes maintain the eerie and potent atmosphere? Most certainly they do.
And a touch of atmosphere goes a long way when songs like “The Immurement” and “In the Grip of Night” are waiting just round the corner to rip your head off. Without actually cleaning up the production, Destiny Calls seems to have added power to the onslaught of jangling riffs and clanking bass, as if the armour of a vacant paladin – guard of the castle for centuries – had just been possessed by the spirit of one of the marathon runners of Greece. The crescendo of noise that opens “The Immurement” has been used to end many a trad metal song before, but here it simply scatters all expectations of song structure and sonic identity, leading into a searing solo and quickly expending two riffs, before Grönqvist tears into her first lyrics (“Look now! At what you’ve become / Just another secret behind the wall”) like she only has minutes left to live – like she is inspired by the same fervour of belief verging on madness that leads to such grisly punishments as she narrates. As explosive beginnings go, “In the Grip of Night” barely, yet satisfyingly, manages to outdo the opener, scrambling fills eating up the echoing drumkit until Sebastian Bergman fires his bass to the front of a hurtling, marching, groovy barrage of noise like a cannonball to the eardrum, stealing the spot of the album’s greatest riff. When the song breaks down midway into chilling graveside ambience, nothing feels forced or cheesy, even when another gold-standard riff flies out of the crypt.
Do not fear that riffs run dry at other moments. Considering the often derivative nature of speed metal, Destiny Calls is a veritable treasure trove of the things. The tremolo picked style that drives “A Warrior’s Lament” through its mid-section would be eaten up by anyone from Naglfar to Condor, while the solos near the end of the closer leave no doubt that the cosmic lyrics fit Chevalier like a gauntlet. Inspiration is not merely contained to the guitar duo of Mikko and Tommi, the bass getting plenty of action, the most noteworthy case of which surely belongs to the torrent of hyper-speed picking that transforms the title of “Road of Light” from metaphorical concept to a physical beam of energy running beneath the duelling guitars. That’s right: a bass solo during a guitar solo. Chevalier “don’t need our morals and rules”, remember?
Let it not be said that the other songs suffer by comparison, since “Stormbringer” contains its own cunning surprise and “The Curse of the Dead Star”, while the only song on Destiny Calls that has been re-recorded from an earlier release, bears in its eight minute length enough of sinister eloquence and pure thrashing intensity to hold its own with ease. Each song feels like a mini-crusade in its own right, and a victorious one at that. Needless to say, the knight runs rampant for a great deal of the runtime, though a certain grim satisfaction can also be taken in the moments when he quiets down for unsettling underhand deeds. However, from start to finish, he remains utterly transfixing and rousingly idiosyncratic. Chevalier have delivered one of the most perfect debut albums in recent memory.