GRENDEL'S SYSTER – Katabasis Into The Abaton

GRENDEL'S SYSTER – Katabasis Into The Abaton
Cruz Del Sur Music
Released Year:
1. Boar’s Tusk Helmet2. The Plight of a Sorcerer3. Rose Arbor4. Night Owl’s Beak5. Golden Key (Won’t Fit)6. The Fire That Lights Itself7. In Praise of Mugwort8. Cosmogony9. Eberzahnhelm (CD/digital bonus)10. Die Bόrde des Schwarzkόnstlers (CD/digital bonus)11. Rosenhag (CD/digital bonus)12. Nachteulenschnabel (CD/digital bonus)13. Gόldenes Schlόsselein (klemmt) (CD/digital bonus)14. Unentfacht Flammend (CD/digital bonus)15. Beifuίweise (CD/digital bonus)16. Kosmogonie (CD/digital bonus)

What is epic heavy metal?

Are GRENDEL’S SŸSTER epic heavy metal?

Oh, dear, they are no less epic than all the bands out there that scream their guts out sounding all great and mighty; and they are as heavy as any proto-metal act that defined the genre.

But you know what?

They go even further than that, because they are also folkish, psychedelic, raw and romantic – yes, ALL IN ONE, and that is what makes them utterly unique!

Let’s analyze it a little more…

Epic metal, a genre often characterized by grandiose musical arrangements, symphonic elements, operatic vocals, and the galloping rhythms reminiscent of battle marches, often evokes imagery of heroic deeds and war cries. And I totally love it for all the above.

There’s also a rougher and murkier side of epicness, the one MANILLA ROAD and CIRITH UNGOL showcased. I love it too.

Be it BATHORY’s Viking sagas shrouded by mountain haze, CANDLEMASS’ gloomy tales of sorcery, VIRGIN STEELE‘s powerful opuses or MANOWAR’s staccato stories of sword and bravery, I LOVE it, period.

And that deep and long-lasting love of mine, allows me to dare saying that GRENDEL’S SŸSTER‘s debut full-length album, “Katabasis Into The Abaton” seems to redefine what it means to be epic in the metal landscape.

The band achieves a monumental sound without adhering to the typical tropes associated with epic metal. Instead, they carve out a niche that is both refreshingly original and deeply rooted in the primal and mystical forces of folk traditions.

Drawing heavy influence from European folk and psychedelic rock of the ’60s and ’70s, bands like THE WATERSONS, PLANXTY, STEELEYE SPAN, ZUPFGEIGENHANSEL, and KEBNEKAJSE have clearly left their mark on GRENDEL’S SŸSTER‘s sound. This foundation is enriched with the finest and most melodic elements of great epic metal groups such as WARLORD, LORDIAN GUARD, LEGEND, THE WEIRD LORD SLOUGH FEG, and early MANOWAR, alongside contemporary stimuli from outstanding newcomers like WYTCH HAZEL, IRON GRIFFIN, CAUCHEMAR, HERZEL, RECEIVER and SMOULDER.

From the very first notes of “Katabasis Into The Abaton”, it’s evident that GRENDEL’S SŸSTER doesn’t rely on bombast or theatricality to create an epic atmosphere. The music is devoid of the usual orchestral flourishes and high-pitched vocal acrobatics that dominate much of the genre. Instead, it draws its strength from the raw and earthy tones of folk music, invoking the spirit of ancient bardic tales. The album’s nine tracks are woven with a thread of traditional sound that feels timeless and powerful, as if channeled from the depths of history itself.

Opening track, “Boar’s Tusk Helmet”, is an excellent sample of the whole album’s character; dynamic and melodic, with intense vocals, playful rhythm section and great guitar display. “The Plight of a Sorcerer” that follows is sharper, yet harmonious in every sense of the term, with a ’60s style, easy-going chorus which gets any listener hooked by the very first listening. Rose Arbor” goes straight for the heart, direct and edgy but still, sweet and uplifting, a kind of folk punk musical tale – one of my favorites in the album!

It’s while listening to that particular song when I realized that backing vocals are more than crucial for the sound of “Katabasis Into The Abaton”. That thought kept returning while hearing the songs repetitively.

“Night Owl’s Beak” is strong and fast, vibrating with the excitement of the hunt, a hymn for the thrill of the kill.

No wonder that the song that comes next is one of the best ballads ever heard around the adventurers’ campfire or inside the king’s court; “Golden Key (Won’t Fit)” takes us to time and space journey, in a magical GRENDEL’S SŸSTER ‘s way – ethereal but also deep, this is a medieval song made up from dream material!

“The Fire That Lights Itself” has a classy slow, heavy elegance that makes it the highlighted doomy track of the album; a great one indeed! Next comes “In Praise of Mugwort”, an intricate, bitter-sweet song with amazing development, fabulous guitar and bass work by Tobi and Simon and pluralistic drumming expression by Till. Of course, one cannot but absolutely admire Caro’s voice – it has it all; power, drama, soulfulness, clarity, directness, immediacy! The German quartet makes a really perfectly tight band and their progress through all six years that play together is obvious – well done, Stuttgart bards!

The album closes with “Cosmogony” that brings me back to where I started this review. Well, my friends, THIS IS EPIC METAL in the TRUEST FORM POSSIBLE! A song, made to last forever, a chant eternal, the best in the album, hands-down.

Well, I think that Sarah Ann (SMOULDER) gave the definitive description of the nine tracks found in “Katabasis Into The Abaton”:

“Primordial, bardic hymns for forest dwellers.”

It’s a praise to the songwriting brilliance of Tobi, who, in his own estimation, claims that being “patient” and “attentive” was the secret sauce for the album’s creation.

The folkish character of it is a defining feature, imbuing each song with a sense of authenticity and emotional resonance. The instrumentation, apart from the amazingly mellow electric guitars of Tobi, the polymorphic drumming of Till and the solidly expressive bass lines of Simon, is also centered around acoustic guitars, flutes, and percussion, even mellotron -in “Golden Key (Won’t Fit)”-, creating a soundscape that is both intimate and vast. The melodies are rich with the echoes of ancient lands and forgotten stories, giving the album a narrative quality that transports the listener to a world of myth and legend.

GRENDEL’S SŸSTER‘s talent and wholehearted effort shine through in their ability to craft songs that are both epic and tranquil. The album doesn’t overwhelm with sheer volume or intensity but rather captivates with its subtlety and nuance. This approach allows the mystical and primal forces at play in their music to emerge organically, creating a soundscape that feels both grand and personal.

Lyrically, “Katabasis Into The Abaton” moves away from the conventional narration of war heroism and battle glory. Instead, it delves into more esoteric and introspective realms. The songs tell tales of journeys into the unknown, encounters with the otherworldly, and the eternal struggle between light and darkness. This thematic focus aligns perfectly with the album’s musical direction, reinforcing the sense that the true epicness of the record lies in its exploration of the human spirit and its connection to the ancient and the mystical.

This album also marks a progression from their previous works, the two EPs “Orphic Gold Leaves” (2018) and “Myrtle Wreath” (2019). While those earlier releases, with their German-language versions, showcased Caro‘s vocal prowess in her mother tongue, offering a true sonic thrill, “Katabasis Into The Abaton” embraces a heavier and faster sound. This evolution signifies the band’s growth and their commitment to pushing the boundaries of their musical expression.

In my humble opinion, GRENDEL’S SŸSTER‘s debut stands as a testament to the versatility and depth of epic metal. It proves that an album can be epic without relying on heaviness or conventional heroism. Through its folkish character, traditional sound, and profound storytelling, the album offers a unique and utterly epic soundscape that is both a tribute to and a reinvention of the genre. Each of the nine fabulous songs is a journey into a world where the power of music and myth converge, making “Katabasis Into The Abaton” a must-listen for any metal enthusiast seeking something truly extraordinary.

As a special treat, there is also a German-language version of the album, “Abstieg in die Traumkammer”, available on compact disc and digital release. GRENDEL’S SŸSTER did it for the challenge and fun of it all -they have been doing so in every release they’ve brought out so far- but also to explore the depth and roots of their native language and to give it an archaic and timeless feel.

Well, English or German, this is TIMELESS indeed!

“Katabasis Into The Abaton” will be released on August 30th by Cruz del Sur on both CD and LP.

Check the discussion about the album in our forum pages.

You can pre order both the CD and the LP here.

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