Sabhankra - From the Frozen Mountains - (8/10)
Published on March 15, 2018
Turkey is not a country bursting with metal bands and certainly not many like Sabhankra. Existing since the turn of the new millennium and releasing three albums on small labels (currently the Russian Metalism Records) and by independent means, the four-piece from Istanbul combine a diverse array of influences into a surprisingly icy and epic whole on their newest opus, From the Frozen Mountains.
It’s very hard to pin down what Sabhankra sound like on this latest effort, not because the sound has travelled a long distance from the likes of “Abandoned by the Gods” on Revenge, but because it seems to have snowballed, accruing the impactful yet mysterious folk of Amorphis’s early years and the sense of sprawl and storm-driven blast that attended many bands from the second wave of black metal. Certainly, the themes chosen on the album link From the Frozen Mountains to wintry battle scenes that were originally set out by Enslaved and Bathory around 25 years ago, yet the clean and melodic edge of the Turks’ formative melodeath lightens the load of the serious subjects. Along with an underlying but significant keyboard presence, riffs may hammer along in epic death metal style or wind and twist in ancient sentimentality, easily building up to the scope of the battle sampled on “It Burns”. The keyboards especially allow Sabhankra to avoid comparison to the likes of Amon Amarth, who might otherwise be in a similar field, while even Kalmah sound much more chaotic and a good deal less emotional.
The rather odd mixture of styles leaves From the Frozen Mountains slightly isolated in sound, though the hypnotic wonder of its songs might lend themselves to fans of Viking metal, melodeath, melodic black metal, or even the soft cocoon of gothic metal as imagined by Katatonia circa Brave Murder Day. This last comparison can be heard particularly in the grandiose trudge of “The Last to Stand”, through which the band struggle onwards as if towards some distant glory, the soft keyboards and nostalgic melodies countering the harsh vocals, rousing each other on to greater efforts. The tone of the keys on “The Last to Stand” and the impressive introduction of “My Thirst for Blood” are very evocative of that used on Burzum’s Filosofem album, making use of the same deadened backing that implanted “Dunkelheit” in the minds of so many metalheads and gave it that otherworldly chill. Similar in effect, though more akin to the blips of a submarine’s sonar in reality, are the keys used for “They Are Everywhere”, the heady rush of bouncy folk metal mediated by the mechanical echoes in the distance, a formula which is not as evocative as on “The Last to Stand” but memorable nonetheless.
With only six songs on the album, From the Frozen Mountains leaves little opportunity for boredom, though the average track length of nearly seven minutes allows for plenty of exploration to take place in individual songs, “It Burns” and the closing title track containing the greatest number of twists and turns in their progress. The first half of the album heads off in more direct style, including some tasty riffs such as the one already mentioned in “They Are Everywhere”, yet there are few superlative moments on any of the tracks. Vocals and lyrics are slightly difficult to pick out, leaving few peaks and troughs in that department, while the tendency of the band to build soundscapes as a whole unit means that individual instrumentalists rarely get much attention, except for brief guitar leads. Atmosphere is thus integral to the experience and the album naturally works better as a whole, which relies on a sense of continuity to link the disparate styles and influences.
As a result of these minor issues, as well as a very irritating hi-hat that sometimes ticks incorrigibly along with the riffing, From the Frozen Mountains will likely not be received as a bolt from the blue into the heartlands of epic metal, though Sabhankra can take great encouragement from the manner in which they have assembled such a coherent album from unlikely pieces. Any metalhead in a wistful mood and craving a bit of sonic adventure will do very nicely to take a trip into these frozen mountains.