REVIEW: EQUILIBRIUM – “Armageddon”
It’s no news that Vikings are all the rage now, and in the world of heavy metal, this has been the case for years. Folk metal fans especially are all guilty of fantasizing about sailing across uncharted waters in a long boat, dying valiantly in battle, meeting our Valkyries, and crossing the gates of Valhalla. If this is all news to you, just take a few minutes at the next metal show you go to and count the Mjolnirs, Amon Amarth tees, and Viking ship tattoos around you. Not that it’s a bad thing at all – hell, I am completely guilty of all three of these things. There’s tons of bands out there bringing our fantasies to life through amazing music, but there is none more epic than Germany’s five piece, Equilibrium. These guys know how to bring an entirely new level of orchestral greatness to the folk metal genre, while still staying heavy and driving, in true Viking metal fashion.
The band has had a rocky history, including major member changes in 2010 when the original vocalist and drummer were replaced, leaving fans pretty divided. A lot of Equilibrium fans will tell you the band died after the last full length release with the original vocalist, ‘Sagas’ in 2008. However, holding on to a similar sound the band continued on as strong as ever, and has since released two great full length albums, ‘Rekreatur’ in 2010 and ‘Erdentempel’ in 2014. Currently, the band is preparing for their fifth full length, ‘Armageddon’ releasing on August 12th through Nuclear Blast. With a couple singles released already, the hype train is speeding through the folk metal world, some good, and some – not so good.
In July, the band released their first single “Prey” which is a killer song featuring some of the heavier riff-driven melodies of the album. Reaction from the fans has been pretty positive, and rightfully so. It appears the band has taken their sound from ‘Erdentempel’ and drop tuned it, but really amped up the orchestrations. The chorus is catchy and larger than life, and the song really sticks with you. However, a few weeks later, the single, “Born to Be Epic” was released with this absolutely ridiculous lyric music video. For one, it’s rare that the band sings in English, and maybe that is for the best because the lyrics are super cheesy. The music video isn’t any better, as it dawns a skull with spinning Earths for eyes, with flying V guitars circling around it, and dancing cartoon swords. Yeah. Dancing cartoon swords. I feel like this is something Dethklok would release, making fun of power metal bands. But you know what? It’s still a pretty kick ass metal anthem, and after giving it a few tries, it really grew on me. This is the type of song that gets you hyped up at the gym (the Pokemon gym counts). So for those that totally hated the video, give the song some more chances – without the silly video – and I am sure it will grow on you too.
As far as the rest of the album goes, I have to admit, this is my favorite Equilibrium release. In the heavy as hell “Erwachen”, the album begins with a driving riff and massive atmosphere, that explodes into this epic fanfare that really sucks you in to this Viking fantasy. The fanfare type feel doesn’t fade until the end of the song, then “Katharsis” slows it down for just a second. But only a second. Because holy hell, the song unleashes beautifully, and these orchestrations are phenomenal. This is where it really hit me that I felt as if I was listening to a soundtrack to some epic fantasy movie, instead of a folk metal album, and it is rare that metal music alone does this for me. Between the top notch production and the impeccably timed horns and drum details, I really feel like Hans Zimmer himself would be impressed. “Heimat” follows, with this incredibly cheery sounding keyboard melody that continues into a pretty power metal-esque tune, and from this power metal chick, there are no complaints. I have found myself singing that melody to myself all day.
We need to discuss the end of the album; let’s start with “Koyaaniskatsi”. This is probably one of the most unique and interesting tracks the band has ever released. With spoken word, and repeating brass and keyboard melodies, this is like the climax of the fantasy movie where the hero with a thousand faces finally returns home again, successfully completing his journey. Call me over emotional, but it brought a little tear to my eye. The music is just phenomenal. However, the album closer, “Eternal Destination” hits hard and brings back more of the darkness found throughout the rest of the album. Since it is such a powerful album closer, I am a little surprised the band released it as their latest single. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great track, a powerful music video, and very in line with the album title and theme. I just feel like it makes more sense with the rest of the album as context.
Overall, this album is folk metal at its finest. If you want to be one of those Equilibrium fans stuck back in the ‘Sagas’ days, then by all means – stay there. Let the rest of us enjoy this masterpiece and appreciate the growth and evolution this band has gone through. It is absolutely obvious with this release that they have found their perfect little niche in the folk metal world, and I dare anyone to question the success that this album can bring them. A huge shoutout needs to go out to keyboardist and guitarist René Berthiaume for recording, producing, and mixing the album. You are god.