Stonehaven - Concerning Old-Strife And Man-Banes
My own musical preconceptions include an expectation of certain musics sounding like they originated in certain geographical regions of the world. For instance, take Stonehaven's sophomore album Concerning Old-Strife And Man-Banes, whose bitterly cold and low-fi black metal sounds like it was conjured up in the very heart of BM territory, the frostbitten forests of Norway. Alas, as is usually the case, preconceptions turn out to be misconceptions. Hailing from Kansas (apparently, midwestern USBM is becoming more and more prevalent) and spiritually nestled in with the early-mid 90's likes of Norway's black metal hierarchy, Stonehaven are a curious outfit with an album chock full of excellent material.
With thematic elements that might be easily overlooked without a lyric sheet, but certainly are a focal point, much of this record feels conceptual with the foreknowledge of Stonehaven's own spoken intent. Rooted deep in ancient Norwegian folklore and the more brutal side of European history, Old-Strife And Man-Banes is not for the squeamish. While much of the music takes on a middle-era prototypical black metal approach of buzzing, tremolo riffs, high shrieking vocals, rapidfire percussion and inaudible bass, there is variation to be had. For every passage of pure black metal, there is a section where the band slows down and hits a bit of a black-rock, viking-metal groove that adds a really killer vibe to the record. Clocking in at an hour over 8 tracks, the one thing that held me up on my first few listens was a feeling of being overwhelmed. The music contains plenty of shifts and overall variation to keep it interesting, mind you, but it can be unapparent at first due to the rather flat and dynamically foggy production value. While this is something that many (including myself) see as a sort of trademark of black metal in general, I honestly think Stonehaven's music would have benefited from a bit more oomph in certain areas, especially in the vocal and drumming departments.
While a different avenue in producing the record might have made it more immediate and enjoyable as a whole, there is too much to love about Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes to disqualify it on such grounds. With excellently written black metal mixed with groovy viking-metal melodies and anthems, Stonehaven have crafted an epic-length record that will appeal to the ancient, pagan Norsemen in all of us.
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