Fenrir - Legends Of The Grail - (8/10)
Published on January 17, 2019
You know the old saying: never judge a book by its cover? Bullshit. Sometimes you absolutely should judge a book by its cover. Case in point: If an album cover is adorned with a medieval castle sitting atop a rugged island in the middle of a misty lake, with the words ‘FENRIR’ and ‘Legends Of The Grail’ embossed proudly in the sky, you know exactly what to expect. It’s phenomenal artwork like this which gives an album a world in which to belong, and allows listeners to be immersed in that world before hearing even a single note. French folk metallers Fenrir had me on their side before the disc started spinning. What followed wasn’t in the least bit surprising or boundary-breaking but undeniably enjoyable and easily digestible. This is ultra-pleasing Celtic folk metal for fans of Cruachan or Heidevolk with smooth female vocals and authentic instrumentation. And after a 7-year wait since their full-length debut Echoes Of The Wolf, fans will take anything!
I mentioned the ‘world’ created by the cover art. In this case, Legends Of The Grail is built around the ancient Welsh folk tales of the holy grail and the knights of Camelot. A fantastic concept for a metal album, and not covered often enough in the genre. There are some aspects of the stories that hardly ever get coverage but are mentioned here, such as the Green Knight (“Sir Gawain & The Green Knight”) or Uther (“The Son Of Pendragon”). Again, this is all immersive stuff, and listening to this record in dimmed light with a candlelit copy of the Mabinogion would be an almost spiritual experience. The folk instruments that drive many of the melodies throughout the album contribute to its air of authenticity. What would a Celtic folk metal album be without some fiddle ‘n’ flute jigs?!
Regarding the production quality, this album hasn’t got the ethereal, mythical quality I was hoping for. It’s mixed very well, especially the drums (for which Kévin Keiser’s stellar performance deserves special praise) – but it does little in terms of atmosphere. What it does succeed in is putting the pedal to the metal and emphasising the heavier, riff-centric moments like “Conquest Of Britain” or the headbang-worthy instrumental “Brocéliande” (the 1:48 mark is one of the best riffs of this year so far). Occasionally, Fenrir will crank out a fantastic, almost melodeath style riff, but don’t quite release its full potential; this is especially true of opener “A Red Sun Rises”. Tempos tend to linger around the mid-pace mark, but there is always a sense of vibrancy urging the songs along. Again, it’s the varying grooves on the drums which become the focal interest point; ranging from the steady double-bass bounces to full-on blast beats.
Vocally, Fenrir don’t push themselves as far as I would like. Elsa Thouvenot’s angelic tones are indeed soothing and always tuneful, but lack a certain impact which would help emphasize the melodies. As a result, the hook lines get lost below the fantastic dual violin harmonies and flute lines. Luckily, she is reinforced by a layer of backing vocals which provide much-needed texture in some choruses. There is also a welcome snippet of harsh vocals which add an extra dimension – particularly in the stunning chorus of “La Dame Du Lac” – and a pleasant change of pace in the dramatic “The Fisher King”. We can take many more moments like these! Legends Of The Grail is a great folk metal album overall, despite its minor flaws. It absolutely nails how to write a folk melody in ancient medieval style; the artwork is superb; the riffs are heavy; and – most importantly – it’s never boring! Now, let’s not wait 7 years for the next one, yeah?