It’s happened. Actually, it happened a long time ago and I’m only just finding out, but it’s happened none the less; Samurai metal has joined the historical themed metal sub-genre battlefields. In 2010, Finland’s Whispered threw the Scandinavian scene a curve ball with their debut album by exploring a Japanese theme rather than following the traditional Viking route. Six years later (and apparently twelve since the birth of the band), Whispered are preparing to release their new album, Metsutan – Songs of the Void.
I’ll admit I was a little sceptical going in. Japanese culture is plastered over the internet and it isn’t the first time the Western world has taken their enjoyment of Japanese life far too far. Whispered have avoided becoming a “neck beard” stereotype though and have in fact written one of my favourite albums of the year so far.
If you are also unfamiliar with Whispered, don’t let the Samurai metal name fool you. When I saw it in the press release I thought along the lines of Alestorm’s pirate metal and so on, but Whispered are a lot more reserved. They are a melodic death metal band first and foremost (not forgetting brief flirtations with black metal), but they utilise traditional Japanese instruments to set the right kind of atmosphere. At times the effect is subtle, hidden beneath the riffs, other times its a full on cinematic sound.
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The use of Japanese instruments is perfect, there’s enough to remind the listener what the subject is and to set the atmosphere, yet there’s not so much that it becomes comical. We all know by now that accordions and fiddles fit metal like a glove and as much as I love my folk metal bands, when everyone is using the same range of instruments the sound tends to blend after a while. When Whispered are in full folk mode, they have a wholly unique sound, and that’s hard in this day and age.
There are songs like Exile of the Floating World that are mostly metal with mere suggestions of folk poking its head in, yet these are met with songs like Warriors Of Yama, a delightfully soothing instrumental that reminded me why reviewing late at night is a bad idea.
Along with the Japanese influence, there’s also a certain Western (Western as in Cowboys in this conext) feeling as well. This is particularly glaring in Victory Grounds Nothing which also features some story setting by way of narration.
Scene setting is another thing the album does well, towards the end of Kensei you have a section that might as well accompany a video of an army sweeping across a great plain. That’s not to mention the closing song, Bloodred Shores Of Enoshima which is deserving of the word epic despite it’s overuse. It might as well be the theme to a boss battle, it’s almost the sort of thing that you imagine Nintendo wanted as their final confrontations.
If Assassins Creed ever makes the rumoured trip to Japan, I want Whispered in the soundtrack. For now though, I’m quite satisfied with a new band to explore properly. If you enjoy folk or melodic death metal in any form, you will not be disappointed in this.
Metsutan – Songs of the Void is out May 20th via Redhouse FMP / Inverse Records
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