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Twisted Mist - Orbios Award winner

Twisted Mist
Orbios
by Kira Schlechter at 30 November 2020, 6:58 AM

It took the entire year, and hearing many efforts from several countries, but I’ve at last found my best instrumental album of 2020. Blend “death-folk metal with medieval influences,” as TWISTED MIST’s Facebook page calls it, and do it well, as the duo has on “Orbios,” and I’m sold. This is the French band’s third album, following 2018’s “Le brame”; they formed in 2014. These are long tracks, averaging about six minutes each, but they never meander – they are tightly crafted, atmospheric pieces performed with conviction and respect. Call it Ren Faire goes metal, but in a non-contrived, very authentic and organic way. It may sound avant-garde by its description, but it’s strongly rooted in that folk tradition, which lends it structure and form and gives it boundaries.

“Matir” (“tarnish” in French) begins with soft ocarina (a type of flute) and acoustic guitar that slowly builds in intensity with the addition of primal, simple drumming and percussion. They use Olivier’s hurdy gurdy for its droning quality throughout, not to provide any actual melody. Electric guitar builds on the ocarina melody and gives it teeth and edge, the chanting and then harsh vocals adding to the mood. A whispered vocal calms and settles the music to percussion and drifts of guitar; the electric strums on a variation of the melody; then back to the original and the chanting and harsh vocal. There’s no real bottom to this music per se – it maintains a delicacy and airiness even at its most crushing.

“Vae Soli” (“woe the one who is alone” in Latin) sounds very much like it belongs in a cathedral, with the percussion, the chanting, the whispered words, the minor-key droning, the bouzouki. It has a sing-along quality even though the lyrics are barely audible, an intense rhythm that resonates in the bones. To make instrumental music this compelling is difficult, but TWISTED MIST succeeds because there’s capable, meaningful songwriting at its core, not just purposeless noodling. And there’s melody aplenty, even just those few chords in the heavy part. The whispered ending, of just the voices chanting the “chorus,” is evocative and entrancing.

My favorite is “Equinoxe,” which starts with bouzouki, and when the ocarina joins in and adds to the melody, it fleshes it out and deepens it – each time through, the melody adjusts, matures, evolves. Slight touches of drums add depth and a bit of foreboding, then the electric picks up the melody and changes it yet again and the blast beats replace the initial percussion (if there’s any criticism, the actual drums could use a bit more depth and resonance in the mix). Then it all fades back to the ocarina and percussion, led by the drums and guitar, and goes back to the electric again. The second bouzouki melody is just a hair different than the first, the percussion propelling it lightly but insistently. Another electric section builds on the first one, and they continue to give you all those melodic touchstones – the lone guitar plays the bouzouki melody here, for instance – and the repetition of those parts only makes you want to hear them over and over. This is instrumental music that has a point and solid, thoughtful musicality – every part fits together perfectly, nothing is jarring, because the initial melody and rhythm remains each time.

Another is “Finis Vitae” (“end of life” in Latin), featuring the bouzouki again in another precise melody – the electric picks it up softly, then more forcefully, developing it into something new. Another potent set of riffing and drums makes plenty of room for a tiny ocarina part over top – allowing the traditional instruments as much sonic weight as the electric ones is a feat of forethought and attentiveness to detail. The ever-so-tender bouzouki ending is fitting to the title, peaceful and final.

Yet another is “Memento Mori” (“remember death” in Latin) again based on hauntingly dark bouzouki, bits of percussion, and tandem chanting. It’s definitely funereal but not oppressively so, and it does lighten a bit as if to be optimistic, with the briefest pause, before returning to the initial part. The electric then echoes the bouzouki and hurdy gurdy and the swinging 6/8 tempo becomes more pronounced and hypnotic. Nicolas’ bass becomes nicely audible here too, and Olivier’s melody as it’s done on electric is just superb. It slows and suspends simply to end.

“La peste soit de ma chair” (or “plague be of my flesh” in French) starts immediately with harsh vocal and guitar. It’s definitely the most “metal” track – perhaps in keeping with the title – it’s kind of a violent but necessary cathartic purging and is the shortest track, but again, it lightens beautifully underneath and a lovely guitar melody helps ease that darkness. It pauses to just bouzouki (Olivier plays it so masterfully throughout), and military-esque drums take over the rhythm it’s established. When it goes back and forth, from the purely metal to the folk instrumentation, it’s not off-putting – they do it so seamlessly as to be completely natural and completely expected.

And the title track, with its purely folk repetitions of melodic variations enhanced this time by tambourine, is just marvelous. The electric guitar adds another separate but complementary melody before swinging into a muscular, syncopated one of its own – when it merges back to the chanting vocals and lashes of bouzouki, that same electric melody intrudes so gently and appealingly, each time with ever-so-subtle changes and accompanied by chugging drumming, that you welcome it.

This is really perfectly done – anyone who ascribes to being “folk metal” might want to have a listen to “Orbios” to see how to do it with impeccable grace and innate balance.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 9

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Matir
2. Vae Soli
3. Equinoxe
4. Finis Vitae
5. Memento Mori
6. La peste soit de ma chair
7. Orbios
Lineup:
Olivier DuPont - Vocals, Bouzouki, Drums, Guitar, Hurdy Gurdy
Nicolas Cesar - Vocals, Bass, Flute, Ocarina, Percussion
Record Label: Music Records
     


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