Taking on a host of aesthetics for their third genre-bending album since their 2007 inception, Colorado duo The Flight of Sleipnir weave their way through blackened folk metal and a progressive-edged doom on Essence of Nine. With the rich (if often used) lore of Norse mythology as their lyrical inspiration, multi-instrumentalists Clayton Cushman (guitar, vocals, bass, keys) and David Csicsely (drums, vocals, guitar) provide a varied approach across Essence of Nine’s eight cuts, flowing smoothly from song to song despite a relatively lo-fi production and managing to affect a dark but still emotionally-communicated atmosphere – that is, they’re not just angry and blasting out – with switches between early Opethian clean singing and more blackened forest screams.
Their second offering through German imprint Eyes Like Snow, it’s hard to get an immediate read on Essence of Nine from opener “Transcendence,” since the song starts with a doomed riff and groove that – were the tone fuzzier – would be pure stoner rock, and moves before long into an acoustic part before giving way, in turn, to far-back screams and heavier guitars and drums. The Flight of Sleipnir do a lot of back and forth between heavy and mellow, but in the context of the songs themselves, it’s not redundant, since Cushman and Csicsely keep what they’re actually playing so varied. “Transcendence” has some repetition of parts, but the chorus isn’t hooky in a songwriting sense, and if the start of the record makes anything clear, it’s that The Flight of Sleipnir are concerned more with stylistic complexity and the contrast between musical light and dark than pop catchiness.
Still, the track gives only a cursory glance at the diversity Essence of Nine carries with it. “Upon This Path We Tread,” which follows, provides even smoother transitions and an effective inclusion of acoustics à la modern Negura Bunget, and the album proceeds from there to unfold with the engaging riffs of “A Thousand Stones” and an increasingly developed atmosphere. There’s something definitively European about the sound The Flight of Sleipnir elicit and the imagery these songs provoke, but for its doom elements and effective balance between the metal and folk in folk metal, I wouldn’t call Essence of Nine redundant. Even on “As the Ashes Rise (The Embrace of Dusk),” which arguably accounts for some of Cushman and Csicsely’s most raging moments, that metallic indulgence is complemented in the second half of the song by an acoustic-led wistfulness that leads gorgeously into the 7:31 centerpiece, “Nine Worlds,” the high point of the album.
About two minutes into “Nine Worlds,” the guitars launch into a progressive, driving riff section offset by layered-in soloing that comprises the remainder of the track. The echoed clean vocals of the song’s beginning are a memory, and there are a few screamed lines that show up amidst the melee, but they’re rendered nearly unnecessary by the breadth of the music surrounding. Like much of Essence of Nine, the only issue as regards the dynamic of “Nine Worlds” is the production, which is decidedly rough-hewn and not able to convey the full scope of the material, but if The Flight of Sleipnir overcome that hurdle anywhere on the record, it’s here.
The momentum continues with “The Seer in White,” which although it builds to a heavier section about two-thirds through, never loses its acoustic feel (the vocals staying clean is a factor as well) and is among Essence of Nine’s more seamless stretches. One might expect The Flight of Sleipnir, having lulled their audience in with lush (again, relative to the production) echoes and atmospheres, would immediately commence to furious squibbly riffs and blastbeats, but Cushman and Csicsely turn the other way completely with the acoustic “As Cinders Burn (The Wake of Dawn).” Perhaps a companion for the earlier “As the Ashes Rise (The Embrace of Dusk),” it’s a quick transition into closer “The Serpent Ring,” which delivers a return to a sparse doom feel while keeping its screaming aggression inwardly directed. Multi-layered clean vocals in the verse bode well for what The Flight of Sleipnir might take from Essence of Nine as cues for future growth, and the full-length finishes on probably not its strongest note (that would be “Nine Worlds”), but one that nonetheless provides ample culmination to the band’s variety of influences.
Some will be put off by the screaming, some will be put off by the production, some will be put off by the seesawing heaviness early on, but for the few whose terms of acceptance match with The Flight of Sleipnir’s presentation, Essence of Nine will be a perfect fit. Prolific as the duo is (in addition to their two prior albums, they have an EP and a split with Apostle of Solitude and Rituals of the Oak), I don’t expect it’ll be long before they’re heard from again, and would look forward to seeing where their range of expression leads them.
Tags: Colorado, Eyes Like Snow, The Flight of Sleipnir