Test Spin: Whispered, Shogunate Macabre

By PAUL BLANK 

Courtesy of Redhouse Finland Music

Courtesy of Redhouse Finland Music Courtesy of Redhouse Finland Music

Samurai Metal. I repeat, Samurai Metal. Two simple, renowned words that come together so effortlessly, you’d think someone would have done it sooner. And yet here we are in 2014, and only one band is ingeniously combining heavy metal with the stylings of Japanese folk music. That band is Whispered, and their second album Shogunate Macabre is awesome.

Never did I even consider that these two sounds could make for such fun, invigorating music, and yet Whispered mixes them in a way that not only lets you marvel at the bridging of cultures, but also never draws too much attention to itself. Melodic death metal, a metal subgenre that began in Sweden and is now almost exclusively played in Finland, is its own Frankenstein of the brutal screams of death metal and the straightforward melodies of more traditional fare. Often a song is composed so that its core plays out before a softer instrumental passage, varying the tempo before the band returns for one more rousing chorus. This passage is usually played with acoustic guitars and other Western folk instruments, but Whispered just replaces them with traditional Japanese instruments like the koto, tonkori and fue. And the result is seamless. The two elements complement each other so well, the possibility of a gimmick never crosses your mind.

And of course the album stands on its own merits, incredible genre hybrid aside. Like the best metal of its kind, Whispered conjures images of massive battlefields where arrows streak across the sky and sword fights break out at every turn. Album highlight “Hold the Sword” even throws you into a literal battle at its midpoint, primordial grunts provoking what sounds like a massive crowd, and suddenly you’re in a mire of chugging guitars and clanging swords. Do I even have to tell you how cinematic that is? And it’s just the bridge. The track is five-and-a-half minutes long and never lets up.

This knowing mix of the weird and the familiar (at least by metal standards) serves Whispered well all over Shogunate Macabre. “Fallen Amerarasu” revs into double time at its own halfway point, laying into punishing blast beats that lead into a creepy vocal melody so bizarre and discordant I’m almost fooled into thinking it’s a ringing guitar chord every time I listen to it. At times, the final track “Upon My Honor” hints at the cringeworthy metal snobs’ no man’s land of metalcore, but emerges victorious with the kind of lizard brain accessibility that often makes that genre a the gateway to the harder stuff.

In addition to being an example of the potential for metal music to still expand its boundaries, Shogunate Macabre is a revitalization of a flagging genre. Melodic death metal was the subgenre that got me into extreme metal (unless you count Mastodon and Trivium extreme metal, which I wouldn’t), easing me into those infamous growls and shrieks by compensating with labyrinthine harmonies and brilliant musicianship. My favorite metal album of the decade so far is Barren Earth’s 2010 album The Curse of the Red River, a melo death masterpiece of fantastically vivid textures. Since then though, the genre’s become bland and cheesy, more in line with the pop metal likes of Children of Bodom, which feel dull and overproduced. Shogunate Macabre, however, is innovative while still maintaining the balance of heaviness and melody that drew me to melo death in the first place. Whether it makes you feel like a Samurai, a Viking or Jeff the Midterm Slayer, it’s excellent primer for an already excellent year for metal. Now press play, brandish your calculator and go wrangle that problem set.

Shogunate Macabre, as well as other music from this week’s Test Spins, can be spun HERE

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Test Spin: Whispered, Shogunate Macabre
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