I had a complaint. It all centered around the lack of folk on the RockmusicRaider blog. A sentiment that the RMR deck crew heartily supported by the way. The zine got a pretty tough metallic shine over the last months – growls, corpse paint and all. And this is just dandy of course, no contest. But our credo also leans towards the more folksy aspects of the music multiverse.
So, what better surprise than this alluring blurb from Italy that just wafted over the alps. ‘Tis exactly that medicine that we need to soothe our metal-hot nerves with. Complete with a Celtic, kind of Medieval flavor and a sprinkling of pop culture to boot. The poppy faction – in itself – is somewhat teeth-grinding. But I guess we can just about live with it. After all folk is what we wanted more of lately. And folk is what we got ourselves alright.
Shadygrove and their début album In The Heart of Scarlet Wood get you a strangely bewitching and somewhat enigmatic mix of Faun, Die Irrlichter and the 2017 concoction of Eluveitie. Then inject some of the leafy elements of Huldre and a taste of the acoustic incarnation of Epica. Stir well to boiling point and add some elf dust. Then wait until all turns scarlet and you have your potion. Sounds like magick straight from groovy fantasy land, right? But this does describe the emotional chords this records pulls pretty well. AND it speaks to the approach they took to get there as well.
In The Heart of Scarlet Wood always manages to slap a smile on my face. Shadygrove concocted a light-filled, yet earthy set of folk-laden, but still slightly rocky tracks. Flavored with medieval and Celtic bits and pieces. And all that framed in a land of legends and mystique that kind of fits with the background of these folks. All exquisitely played out with nicely sounding refrains that just feel like a folk version of what we commonly find in many Power Metal outfits.
Shadygrove is indeed a band of surprisingly astute acoustic skills, and it shows all the way. A trait found with many a Symphonic and Power Metal band, by the way. So why was I not surprised to find members of Evenoire, Elvenking or again Sound Storm on this album. Fits, doesn’t it?
But somehow I am missing this additional spice, this bite, an otherness that will avoid the descent into mainstream. It should be there, but isn’t. You’ll get parts of the record that come across as largely soapy and whitewashed. Like one of them Disney productions with happy girls sporting fluttery butterflies hovering about colorful meadows with giddy creatures bouncing about.
As the track list goes however, you’ll find no filler materials. None of the songs are bad neither, with one or two nearing nirvana status. The extended play lengths will drive the three-minute-per-track purists to distraction, but without merrit. Because Shadygrove put a lot of effort into the arrangements of their tracks, thus avoiding the descent into endless loops to generate length. A crime that many other bands committed in the past.
I really liked The Port of Lisbon, the nod towards The Gentle Storm. Or the nicely unplugged, yet powerful Let the Candle Burn that seems inspired by some acoustics we kinda heard straight from Simone Simons. Now, you’ll need to wait for the best part until Queen of Amber, the very last track. Good tactics demand that you do not put the best track at the very beginning, lest everything taste stale and awful later. This is what they did, but it will be worth your wait.
In conclusion, Shadygrove got themselves off to a great start with a refined, yet mature set of folksy tracks, all tastily executed. In the Heart of Scarlet Wood is sticky to a point and risks to follow you around with its catchy tunes. The band admittedly did not really go where no-one went before. Yet, in the end they came up with their own and surprisingly juicy arrangements. And it is the savvy execution of all these tracks, the catchy melodies and the inherent groove the band dispels that really takes them to the next level. This is a cool record and I am sure it will go far.
In the Heart of Scarlet Wood will air on 6 April 2018 in Europe and on 25 April 2018 in Japan via Rubicon Music.
Editor’s note: The record successfully made it onto the Intermittent Digest – Tome VII. Contrats!