Nestled somewhere in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, the enigmatic four-piece known as Gwynbleidd retain the sense of awe the first few waves of Irish immigrants must have felt upon reaching Ellis Island, America, and opportunity. Throughout this nearly forty minute affair, one can hear the choppy waters of resistance, the tension of survival, the melancholy of replacing your old home with a new one.
The reason for these diverse, unusual, and downright specific emotions (this band excels in creating very narrow moods unlike few others I've had the fortune of hearing) is the fact Gwynbleidd's sound literally stretches past two continents. On the one hand, the band borrows liberally from the chilled, ebony sheen of classic Scandinavian 1990's black metal for many of their riffs, and the numerous folk melodies that crop up again and again maintain a distinctly Celtic air to them. On the other, the band has a sense of wistful Americana goth to some of its tones...things are moody, desperate, but never hopeless. Time and again, you almost get the sense this brand of progressive blackened death metal is positive music despite the dreary sepia tones it conjures; almost as if the music is meant to make you sad but give you joy at the same time, by knowing the things it speaks of inside of you can and will be overcome by strength of will alone. Things like 1970's prog rock, tight, slow-tempo death metal riffing, and the like all point to more American ways of doing metal, but the end result is a very unique combination indeed. If I had to describe the very innovative sound of Gwynbleidd, I'd point to early Opeth mixed with recent Enslaved and a little bit of straight up European folk music. Intoxicating, moving, and strongly poignant, Amarathine shows a band with such vast amounts of raw talent it will make your jaw go slack as it oozes over the floor in bewildered surprise.
Take the insanely mature opener that is "Nostalgia." I swear by the Gods that this track alone could get a band signed, so well-crafted, intricate, and stunning is its complex, deep beauty. Opening with noodling clean notes that ebb and flow behind a tapestry of swirling, ethereal chords, the band starts the album off with a restrained whisper rather than the bang we metalheads are so accustomed to at times that it is no longer even shocking to us. As the cymbals slowly splash, the disc kicks into overdrive with some incredibly textured, crunchy riffs. Lead vocalist Maciej has a caustic, ferocious growl, and the song switches between sophisticated progressive death riffing, and clean chords draped in a shawl of psychedelic progressive washes. The song eventually seesaws back into aggressive territory once again, the lead melodies becoming a bit more advanced and a new dimension of cutting sharpness emerging as the band works itself into a fiery outpouring of catharsis. This effectively ends the song, with a mix of free, unrestrained harmonics soaring amongst a cloud of dense, chaotic riffing and lightning strike growls. Just when you think it is over, there emerges from the driving storm a misty, quiet calm courtesy of a clean guitar melody that originally opened the entire song to being with. Other vocalist Michal picks this somber, silently exhilarating moment to open his mouth for the first time, his deep, full-throated bellows sounding both crisp and strong. Firmly rooted in an almost Barbarian masculinity, the vocal chants ending the song never sound out of place or hokey in any way. The song finally switches into full on metal once more, ending things with a blowout of purist rock 'n roll fury.
"New Setting" follows up with equally strong music, its slow, suffocating opening riffs choking you out with constricting, claustrophobic melancholy. Slowly but surely the song erupts into melodic tremolo picking and large amounts of fret gymnastics. The band has absolutely no issue with switching tempos frequently, preferring to alternate between an open, organic trudge and mid-tempo riffing that sounds much faster because of it. A graceful folk break some four minutes in would do Opeth shame, the vibrant Medieval stylings manifesting themselves in resplendent glory. As much as I could hope to describe all the details, this boils down to a song played by talented musicians simply for the sake and joy of playing, and the large amount of diversity present (there is even a bass-line that takes center stage, amidst more tight riffing and clean guitar pluckings) showcases just how passionate the music is. A true joy to hear with ears.
"The Awakening" is easily my favorite track on the entire EP, its somber, racing folk opening showcasing a sort of pensive, shadowy anger that I didn't know the band had in them. This is absorbed into the framework of airtight Enslaved-worthy riffing, the progressive leanings encased in a dark gloss of menace. The noodling background melodies, the swirling whirlwinds of gloom, all of it meshes into another fully-fleshed monster of a track. When "The Awakening" really shines is not the gargantuan prog-death grooves it conjures, or Maciej's howls, but rather the achingly graceful crescendo the band scales with that exquisite build-up about four and a half minutes in. Starting with neo-pagan war chants and tightly anchored clean rhythms, the song wanders effortlessly down this path before a plodding drum beat takes over about a minute later and a joyous Celtic folk melody plays alongside it. Gwynbleidd choose to indulge this literally magical moment fully, the melody slowing building higher and higher, and the double-bass always tapping a military beat at lethargic crawl, until before you know it the song simply explodes at about seven minutes with a fiery phoenix dance that is the album's crowning moment. Just try not to be swayed by the effortless majesty divined here, it cannot be done. This is the kind of music stars are birthed to. To boot, you think that the song's grand end will go on forever, but without any kind of warning at all, it abruptly stops, kind of like life. You think everything is going well, and then one day, it is all taken away right? Heavy stuff indeed.
"Lure of the Land" has trouble following that song at first, its straightforward, unassuming fingerpicking starting things off on a note that is a tad underwhelmed. It would be downright heresy of me to say this song isn't as good as the rest however; again, the band crafts a masterwork of brilliantly polished riffs chock full of Old World melodies and troubadour spirit. This easily could have been a track on Opeth's recent return to form, Ghost Reveries. The song (much like those on that aforementioned album) are covered in decadent darkness, alternating between almost supernatural spiritual bonding via music and intense, gripping human emotion. Excellent work.
With each song being over nine minutes long, many would probably be quick to ignore the potential Gwynbleidd has based on sheer impatience alone. This is foolish to the nth degree, and people would be wise to invest the time necessary to truly appreciate the elegant, rich metal that Gwynbleidd so effortlessly weaves. Though often sad, dismal, and dark, one cannot help but shake the feeling that each song contains in it (buried like a jewel perhaps) a glimmering light of hope so bright that it will always catch your eye. Above all else, Amarathine introduces us to a band with such natural songcraft (I firmly believe Opeth could have penned most of these tracks, that is how well wrought they are, through-and-through) that it can only be a matter of time before Gwynbleidd is signed to a label who gets their quiet, suffocating nostalgia and eerie atmospherics. Simply stunning. Get this now!
2. New Setting
3. The Awakening
4. Lure of the Land