Label: Godreah Records
Given that The Wolves Of Avalon include Metatron (also of The Meads Of Asphodel) in their ranks, it’s no surprise that their folk-metal (or, if you prefer the band’s own description, prog-pagan) has tended towards the historical and dramatic, with a healthy progressive element to it for good measure, and little regard for convention. Yet even when compared with previous albums Carrion Crows Over Camlam and Boduicca’s Last Stand, their latest release, Across Corpses Grey, is a vast, challenging album. Consisting of one 30-minute long track and two covers, and including guest sports from Turios (Drudkh), Hildr Valkyrie, and Daemonskald (SIG;AR;TYR), it is unapologetically epic in scope, playing by no rules save the band’s own, and being very successful in doing so. I went in to it rather warily, being no great fan of folk or pagan metal, but by the time it was done, Across Corpses Grey had completely won me over, and my appreciation of it has only grown with each listen.
It should hardly need saying that a record of this nature is not for everyone, yet despite what may seem a high barrier to enjoying it, Across Corpses Grey is a remarkably approachable record, its duration absolutely flying by and attention being held throughout. The 30-minute long title-track consists of various movements, each transition being handled with skill and talent. Once the introductory segment is done with (at a touch over five minutes long, it’s the only part that feels longer than it needs to be) the track wastes little time in revealing its true character – thunderous, epic folk-metal, so successfully portraying the cruel, bloody nature of the War of the Roses, painting pictures of battlefields full of the dead and dying, and a nation torn apart by war. The musical emphasis is largely upon the metal elements, with the folk instruments and melodies being used at key points to enhance the desired atmosphere and overall character of particular sections, especially when something more mournful and somber is being reached for, such as the absolutely gorgeous flute around the 10:45 mark.
To pick out one element or aspect of the track that is most impressive is incredibly difficult, given how excellent it is once the introduction is done and the song has properly begun. Superlative performances and song-writing abound, but perhaps the biggest strength of “Across Corpses Grey” is the way that so many different elements and sections are woven together in ways that ensure the flow of the track is never lost or disrupted, and that transitions are never jarring. As would be hoped for in such a long track, a vast variety of tempos, moods, and elements come to the fore at different times, but they never feel disjointed or forced. And given how much there is to the track, it does mean that repeat listens are richly rewarding – it is inevitable over the course of such a long song that different parts will capture your attention on each listen, meaning that there are elements that will inevitably be missed even after several listens.
By the time the song reaches its bloody, thunderous conclusion, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll feel exhausted to some extent – whilst the title track is an undeniably enjoyable listen, it’s also quite draining due to its length and number of component parts. As such, that Across Corpses Grey is rounded off by two covers is a sensible move, both for the band and listener (after all, any other original compositions are bound to suffer somewhat following on from such a vast, epic work). The first, The Voice Of Steel originally by Ukranian pagan black metal band Nokturnal Mortum, is a fairly straight-forward cover. At almost nine minutes long, it is hardly short, and like “Across Corpses Grey” it goes through a variety of sections and distinct movements, but it feels almost succinct by comparison, though it is a solid cover of a strong song, and the Wolves Of Avalon manage to imprint their own character on the track.
Considering all that came before it, the closer is perhaps the most surprising track of all – a cover of “Die Hard” by Venom, including appearances from Alan Averill (Primordial), Rob Miller (Amebix), Mirai (Sigh), and guitar by original Venom guitarist Mantas, it sounds like an absolute riot. It is perhaps a touch out of place with the preceding tracks (and made a bit more sense when presented as one side of a 7″, as it was on a recent release on Eternal Death Records), but it’s still an utter ripper, and a hell of a lot of fun.
The real star of Across Corpses Grey though is the title track, and it’s on this that I’m largely judging the album. I’ll admit, I wasn’t especially taken by the previous albums by the Wolves Of Avalon – perhaps simply because I’m not too keen on folk or pagan metal – but this album is one I rate very highly. It does require a little space to fully appreciate it – the title track is meant to be listened to in one listen, which I’m sure is part of the reason it is one long track rather than multiple smaller ones – but the rewards for giving it what it requires are vast. Bloody and somber as it often is, Across Corpses Grey is a total triumph.