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Pitkan Matkan - From Despair To Rebirth

Pitkan Matkan
From Despair To Rebirth
by Kira Schlechter at 02 March 2021, 6:51 AM

It may seem weird to think about, but the Vikings actually did invade France several times, including during two Sieges of Paris in 845 and 885. So French Viking metal, like that done by France’s PITKAN MATKAN, does make historical sense. Their latest album, “From Despair To Rebirth,” is only their second since forming in 2009 (their first was “Forward!” in 2014). It’s uneven at times, but has more than a few bright spots. “Uudestisyntyminen” (the word means “born again”) is an instrumental in the ongoing trend of everyone starting albums with instrumentals these days. It’s piano and horns (likely keyboard effects) in a rather threatening melody, with insistent drums, guitars, and thunder added. It does a good job establishing the mood.

The tempo changes and the mix in “The Old Boozer Man” are kind of like a barroom brawl, chaotic and crazed and kind of a mess, the drums like the chairs being thrown, the guitars like punches landing. Heimdall’s vocals are indistinguishable (glad I had lyrics) and the words are clever if a little awkward – it’s like a death metal ALESTORM but lacking the crispness and cleanness and some of the humor. Our dubious hero is “old, ugly, and poor,” “His life has another name/His name is Alcohol,” and it is a story, starting with the man waking up and wanting to go to the tavern. On the way he imagines the “beautiful tavern” that awaits him. The bridge is a little puzzling as it mentions this “man who loves to drink” also being “a man who decides to help us/To cure some warriors” (this will be clarified later), then the final verse is him arriving at the bar to sing and play his accordion “to forget the poverty.” They’re good ideas, just a little awkwardly executed.

“Stay Viking” is to the point and self-explanatory, an ode to the Viking way of life and their resilience (“A poison can’t kill us/A horde can’t fight us/A beast can’t devour us”) and the chorus is a real fist-raiser (“You must remember your family and homeland”). The bridge would go over like gangbusters live (just “Stay viking!” repeated – you can see the fists in the air in your mind). But that chorus is a little off rhythmically, starting on a swing and then becoming erratic, and their pronunciations of words are also a little off in an effort to make them fit the tempos. Overall, it is better constructed and makes more sense than the opener (except for the appearance of this mysterious unnamed “man” again, “The man restored us lots of hopes”).

“Taste Of Beer” is off with much phlegmy vocals and a choppy tempo (and again throughout, those grooves are all over the place and about impossible to pin down). The main guitar melody in the chorus, though, does have a bit of a French/folky flair. The verses are kind of weird (“Everything was gone/Because of this poison/The nature pleasure/The coolness of trees” and the second, “Hey my dear boozer/Please I want a beer/To celebrate your help/Our recovery,” like whose help?), but the chorus is straightforward and kind of hilarious (“We know that the beer will not kill us/We know that the beer is our ally”). But do they intend it to be? Who knows?

OK, so creative titles aren’t the band’s strong suit, but “Important Help” has a more sound structure than some of the other tracks – the tempos remain consistent, the guitars are stately and full of buzz, if a bit too high-end at times. There’s an interesting lilt inserted in the middle of each verse – it goes on a bit too long, but it’s certainly different. And the stretched-out melody in the chorus has another very folky feel. There’s quite a nice turn of phrase in the second verse, where it’s told that apparently someone tried to kill the warriors (assuming this is what the characters are in this story) and they note, “Killing with a poison/Is not a proof at all/Neither of courage/Nor of talent.” Back in the day, it was said that the use of poison was a cowardly way to kill someone; it was even called a “woman’s weapon.” The story kind of works backwards – in the first verse, it’s like they’re recovering from the poisoning (“We weren’t aware of anything … What was our quest? What was our goal?”) and the second is them remembering or realizing what happened. The third, though, is Odin speaking (“I know your story/And where you must go'') and the end is another prechorus where they describe meeting with the gods and learning from them, perhaps both sections happening during their poisoned state (“It’s the most important mission/Of my warrior’s life”). The music fits that very well; it has a certain mystery to it. It’s cleverly done.

Again in “The Forest Of The Ancient Druids” the tempos have no rhyme or reason, jetting out all over the place, but the little guitar commentary, like a call-and-response, between lines in the verses is a cool touch. The chorus is a sonic soup (the hollered vocals of the title don’t help), the cymbal-heavy drumming is harsh, and before the final verse and chorus, it gets super fast, then super slow and the transitions are nonexistent. But lyrically, you have to like the imagery and scene-setting in the first verse: “This forest seems commonplace/Lugubrious from the outside (when did you ever hear anyone use that word, which, by the way, means “looking or sounding sad and dismal”?)/And all the black birds which are croaking/Show that it is not the case.” The second is equally colorful, describing what can happen in the forest if you’re not careful (“You can touch a tree and die after/You can eat apples and burn after”). The third brings back this mysterious man again (“Two warriors with an old man/Entering the forest”). Stay tuned on that…

But the grooves in “Betrayal” are better, the transitions between tempos smoother. We didn’t need to repeat the first verse necessarily – we get that they are trapped and seem doomed – and the chorus is that desperation: “We will die! In this forest/We will die! In ignorance/We will die! Without glory.” Later choruses are just the “We will die!” part. Our man in question at last gets an identity – he’s the “boozer man” from the first song, and he’s a coward who “drops his weapons and turns back.” They chastise him, too, saying, “Do we have the right to abandon/Two glorious knights in the face of death?” Before that, though, is a lovely bridge full of dreamy guitars, immediately and intimately mixed, that play the initial melody and variations – it’s quite nice in conveying the scene, as is the wrenching guitar solo and a slower, heavier section that also fits the action as they taunt, “So go bastard, you are a coward.”

Musically speaking, they’ve got it down as to being in keeping with the action on “Battle Is Near,” with the opening slow, muscular chug and sound of marching boots and a guitar melody that’s a call to arms. It starts with the simple chorus, “All for nothing or just only for the glory/Asgaard is far but the battle is near,” and its simple melody and sentiment is quite folky (the double kick drumming beneath it is very fine as well). The verses speed up to depict what’s going on (“Smell of battle! We’re afraid without weapons,” etc., and “Until the end we’ll continue to fight and kill”); the second hints at a bit of homesickness (“My homeland is far, but them they are near”). They know all is lost, “near to the defeat,” but they remember, “All we learned during our life/Sword in hand, we’re going to fight/For homeland and glory.” The end is appropriately frantic as they note, “The battle is near” – again it successfully marries the music and the words to tell the story effectively.

“Magical Lake” starts immediately again with the first verse, “Enemy’s coming, better than us” (well, at least they’re honest) and a straight-ahead groove that stays consistent until the dragged-out, determined, kicking-and-screaming chorus lead-in, “I will not give my heart, I will not give my mind.” The lake in question, by the hint of the lyrics, is one that shows you what you desire, as the second verse says (“I’ve never seen during my life/Something like this, like this beauty … Now I don’t care if the world burns/I am in front of perfection”). The shouted line of the title in the chorus, with big guitar chords behind it, is kind of off-key, giving it a bit of likely unintentional humor, as does the line, “it’s not just water,” which kind of hearkens back to the second verse. And of course in the bridge, when it quiets to soft guitar and the burble of water, it’s an eerily hollow-sounding woman’s spoken voice as the siren song of the lake – “You’ll come to me … ‘Cause I can see in your eyes your desire” (with a lovely guitar melody accompanying) – before we shake off the spell with one last defiant prechorus and chorus.

Crows or ravens cawing (the harbingers of death) open “Black Birds Escape,” along with the chorus, which is muddy and a bit messy. It settles down in the first part of the verse before it inexplicably speeds up in the second, so it’s pretty much pure death metal in that regard. There’s some nice parallelism in the verses, from “Our destiny becomes dark” to “The end of a tragic destiny” and “Maybe the gods will have pity” to “Maybe the gods cry or laugh,” and they drive home the fact that they are meeting their end far from home with the lines, “Our family is far from us/We will die as unknown warriors.” The last words are moving in their way, when they ask, “How to react to that?/How to imagine this?/How to enter Valhall?/How not to die badly?” before blast beats and blazing guitar brings it to a shuddering halt.

The title track gives us kind of a happy ending in that our heroes do go to Valhalla, and there’s a decent swing powering this throughout, especially in the chorus. There’s a nice reference back to the first track when they say, “The tragedy of the tavern,” and they fully admit they’re not perfect in the second verse when they note, “The last failure of a glorious life.” And there’s a bit of quizzical reference back to the fourth track when they say, rather wistfully, “We really want to drink a last ale,” but alas, they never shall. They plan to take a few down with them before they go, though (“They will know a brutal truth” and “Fight to revenge without terror” and at the last, “Show them your sword/On my command/Kill them all”). And the final chorus has a nice twist, going from “Maybe it’s the end of our days/Maybe it’s the end of our quest” to “It’s not the end of our days/It’s not the end of our quest” because they will, after all, live on.

There’s some awkwardness here and some sloppiness and some maybe unintended chuckles with lyrics, but PITKAN MATKAN has enough of a deft songwriting hand that it’s likely they’ll overcome these issues in time. If they do it more, they’ll get better at it.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 6
Memorability: 6
Production: 5

3 Star Rating

1. Uudestisyntyminen
2. The Old Boozer Man
3. Stay Viking
4. Taste Of Beer
5. Important Help
6. The Forest Of The Ancient Druids
7. Betrayal
8. Battle Is Near
9. Magical Lake
10. Black Birds Escape
11. From Despair To Rebirth
Heimdall - Vocals
Einherjar - Guitars
Kol - Guitar
Crom - Bass
Fenrir - Drums
Record Label: M&O Music


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