The first encounter with HAGGARD back in 2005, listening to their "Eppur Si Muove" masterpiece, held a promising becoming of a great band with new ideas that made it seem worthwhile listening to. "And Thou Shalt Trust... The Seer", which I listened to a few weeks later, was a weaker album, but nonetheless not lacking creativity. HAGGARD are a breath of fresh air in the Metal scene, combining elements of classical and baroque music with distorted guitars and fierce heavy drumming to create a sort of humble coexistence between the two. Many bands have tried to fuse these elements, but only a few actually manage to create something near the reach of audible. "Eppur Si Muove" was such a brainchild and as promising as the album was, as high were the hopes that the successor would be as grand as the precursor.
"Tales Of Ithiria", however, is a complete and miserable disappointment, lacking most aspects its forerunner had to offer. Almost everything that made "Eppur Si Muove" grand and majestic, fades like a dim fog in the background of this weak album. While composing the songs for such a band must be as nightmarish as tuning all their instruments live, they still remain dull and lifeless, unlike earlier material. Whatever the cause for this abomination, it is disappointing at best, atrocious at worst. The album's concept is based on thoughts and stories of frontman Asis Nasseri, who, by the way, writes most material for the band. He is of German/Italian origin, which makes him stereotypical for classical music. He writes the lyrics in German, Italian, Latin and English. The latter being flawed at times. And if there's one thing for me that's an annoying pain to the ears, it's poor grammar and syntax in English. The EP focuses on some kind of tale about a generic mythical land "Ithiria", where you have the typical struggle of human/dwarf/elf races and of course the everlasting conflict between good and evil. Kings, witches and peasants, it's all there! Very inspiring. Never heard that one before.
The really horrible part of the album is the whole goddamn storytelling and whispering, which are elements that I loathe more than anything else in music (except maybe excessive use of breakdowns and "Jumpdafuckups"). We have a whole 6 minutes, distributed throughout the album, which is very annoying. This gets on your nerves very quickly, not only because the tales themselves are awfully uninspired and boring, but because they stop the natural musical flow of the album. It makes you impatient, grinding your teeth against each other and asking the guy to just shut up and continue with the goddamn music. This of course makes the album itself rather short, reaching only an actual playtime of about 36 minutes. As for the instrumental work, there is almost nothing new an offering to top their 2004 effort. Guitar work is dull and has apparently taken the back seat on this album. The only catchy tunes that can be found here are some vocal duties, preformed in traditional alto and soprano vocal range, by really talented singers. This is affirmed by live experience. The vocals of frontman Asis Nasseri have also weakened. His phrenic grunts were quite dim to begin with, but on this album they have taken a further step down, sounding even more weary.
"Oh god, don't let my heart be weak tonight"
Another weak aspect are the lyrics, as beforementioned in various languages, English being the weakest of them all. They are simply just generic and boring, enriching my creativity and perception of things to a zero degree. You even have to understand all of the languages to get the full concept and story, which I luckily can. But there still is nothing as near as inspiring or interesting here, in any language.
3000 men scattered at the first break of dawn
"Now unleash the dragon to lead me on"
Clearly, another painful aspect on this album is the cover of MECANO's "Hijo De La Luna", which is a horrible cover. Many artists have taken this song and made it their own, few have succeeded in making something out of it. If you're looking for a good cover, check out Mario Frangoulis' version of it. The cover on this album is simply worse than the Sarah Brightman version. Picture that together with heavy guitars every once in a while after the verse and then you have it. Not to mention the horrible pronunciation of the Spanish text. After a couple of years of Spanish lessons the grave flaws in the language are clearly audible. The vocal performance is painfully dire, as is the dull and hollow instrumental work for this song.
"Quantus tremor est futurus
Quando Judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus"
Also the "Dies Irae" excerpt is completely out of context. In conclusion, HAGGARD have managed to take an intense fall down the stairs of creativity and musicianship and not without a few bumps on the head. Regressive art, or simply a momentary lapse of reason? Only time will tell. Keep away from this album, unless you get excited from dullness.
(Online June 28, 2009)