Album Review: Crimfall, As The Path Unfolds…

[from MadeLoud, May 20, 2009]

Finland’s Crimfall describe themselves as “epic folk metal,” a statement whose accuracy is almost shocking given the liberties so many metal bands take in self-classification. Even more notable is how Crimfall somehow sell themselves short with this: while the songs of their debut album As the Path Unfolds… are surely epic, their claim lies more in the scope and reach of their songs rather than the simple length test so many others use. Crimfall jam a lot of metal into the 45 minutes of Path, and where many a group has folded under the weight of their ambitions, Crimfall reveal themselves as both adept and comfortable across a huge swath of heavy music.

To the non-believer in metal, Path probably looks and sounds ridiculous. On it, you’ll find an operatic choir harmonizes over Iron Maiden-esque riffing and Nightwish-style symphonic arrangements, all of which is punctuated by relentless double bass and the he said/she said vocal ping-pong between the graceful alto of Helena Haaparanta and death-by-numbers growling of Mikko Häkkinen. But to the fans of power and symphonic metal, Crimfall may represent redemption for every Arjen Anthony Lucassen project that fell just short of what was promised.

Where the epic part of Crimfall’s oeuvre comes from the group’s ambition, the folk elements truly give Path its sturdy definition, although Crimfall take the clever route of using folk not just in the airy singer/songwriter sense but also in the indigenous European sense. The Viking opera buildup and accordion sea shanty waltz of “Hundred Shores Distant” provides a fitting soundtrack for kicking ass on the high seas, but Haaparanta’s staccato, Medieval vocals provide an ethereal foil to Häkkinen’s blood-soaked screams, as though Simon and Garfunkel were having a rock-off against Opeth.

Not content with the bombast of mere orchestral backing and huge chord progressions, Crimfall take Path a step further into full over-the-top scoring and sound effects. Drawn swords kick off the rocking “Non Serviam” while a surprisingly brutal scalding scene closes “The Crown of Treason,” and the “Sun Orphaned” interlude could quite easily fit into the Gladiator soundtrack.

As could probably be expected, these wild aspirations are both the best and worst thing Crimfall have going for them. The Celtic intro of “Wildfire Season” builds into a Hans Zimmer-esque march and unabashedly heavy riff session before nestling back into an orchestral coda. That Crimfall cover this much territory speaks volumes of their abilities as songwriters; that it fits into the space of five and a half minutes might speak more to a short attention span that actually works in their favor. Likewise, the Middle Eastern-flavored guitars opening “Ascension Pyre” give way to black metal verses Cradle of Filth would be proud of, then yielding again to the tabla and strings as Haaparanta offers up the expected redemptive chorus. They probably won’t convert anyone to the genre, but Crimfall’s music won’t sit well with metal beginners anyway.

As the immaculate arrangements suggest, Crimfall take their work very seriously while covering a lot of ground. While most of the elements of As the Path Unfolds… may not be wholly original or new, the strength of their execution is undeniable. Fans of power, melodic and symphonic metal will find plenty to like here.