From the flute and piano over the creaking of a ship and pen scratch that opens track 1, Prelude to a Journey, Aexylium’s debut release is clear in its intentions. This album knows it’s going for a classic folk sound, and it’s not shy about its influences.
The first few tracks feel solid and have some strong ideas, while still holding to influences and styles within the genre already with the DNA of exemplars like Alestorm, Amon Amarth, Eluveitie and others quite audible. Where Prelude to a Journey offers a tease of what is to come, Black Flag wastes no time. Just as the heavier moments of Prelude fade away, a strong percussive intro with guitars and a flute melody on top carry you into the album proper.
As we move through the spirited power metal of Black Flag to the much more folk influenced Into the Jaws of Fenrir, there are hints of what this band could really deliver in time. My Favourite Nightmare and Banshee both open up the music a bit more, and for this reviewer the back half of the album positively shines with character and deeper sounds.
Tales from Nowhere retains the strong power metal feeling while leaving more space for the flutes, violin and keys to come through. It was really from here that the dichotomy of the punchier metal sound against the more elegant folk sounds that typify the genre felt comfortable, and a more ambitious use of the sounds on offer will help distinguish Aexylium from the many folk-influenced metal groups out there.
Contrasting this weightier is Revive the Village, which comes in boldly with that most subtle of instruments, the bagpipes. This heralds the more Korpiklaani influences that the band cite, an influence which also rings through on the final track Radagast. This fun party track moves into a much more sombre The Blind Crow, which I think was my favourite track and used the full line-up of the band to greatest effect.
Judas’ Revenge feels like the end of the album, complete with a beautiful intro that brings the drama and tension up for what one of the strongest offerings on the album. Every instrument feels featured here, even when they don’t get a solo, and vocalist Steven Merani sounds more comfortable with the harder hitting rough vocals here than in the cleaner ones earlier in the album.
Folk metal has a tendency to come through poorly on lower quality systems, due to the instrumentation. This album is not as bad as some, but I’d recommend plugging in your good headphones for it, as the mix doesn’t always highlight the more complex or interesting moments. I played this first on headphones and then on a system with a dedicated sub, and I found it gave me room to appreciate the guitar and keys lines that felt a bit muddier coming all through one speaker. The final track, Radagast has clearly been written to call up the live feel of bands like Alestorm, (complete with ‘oys’) and when played on good speakers I can already feel the huge energy it could bring to a mosh.
Over the album, Aexylium move between a few feelings that show hints of their influences, but rarely feel derivative. The instrumentation begs comparison to Eluveitie, particularly the prominent flutes and violins on tracks like Into the Jaws of Fenrir and My Favourite Nightmare. Fenrir and Banshee both lean more into Merani’s growls, and these are a rich and full as that of Cruachan or Amon Amarth.
The band particularly shines when they commit to more staggered rhythms and confident riffs. I found the ambitious moments such as Fenrir’s final minute, the start of The Blind Crow, and the Lacuna Coil-turned-folk intro of Banshee sounded unique, confident and rich across the whole band, and I would have liked a few more of these moments.
‘Tales From This Land’ is a debut album, and at times that shows through. That said, it’s a damn strong offering from a band who, if they can nail down their sound and approach the future with as much skill and confidence as this album shows, could become one of my favourites in the genre.
Get your hands on Aexylium’s ‘Tales of This Land’ HERE.