Retrospective: Equilibrium – “Sagas”

equilibrium - sagas

Having recently jumped into a massive, all-five-book re-read of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, I’ve been listening to a whole hell of a lot of Equilibrium lately. It’s been scientifically proven that the German symphonic folk metal quintet is the perfect soundtrack for these kinds of epic, fantasy-based reads. Oh, you want the data to prove that, do you? Well, it just so happens that- WHOA, LOOK OVER THERE! (*turns and runs*)

At any rate, the biggest highlight of my Equilibrium collection is easily 2008’s sophomore effort, Sagas. It was my first exposure to the band, and I still hold the fondest of memories of my first few listens to the record. So let’s jump in, shall we? 

JANUARY 2009—Christmas has come and gone, and I find myself flush with iTunes gift cards. Having recently gotten pretty into folk metal through bands like Ensiferum and Eluveitie, I decide to dig a bit deeper and blow some of my credit on yet another E-named band within the genre. Equilibrium’s listed as a similar artist to both, and they’ve got a new-ish album out. I drop the $9.99 on said album, Sagas, and take my first listen…

What followed was one of the more exhilarating listens I’d heard up to that point. It had a terrific melodic sensibility without sacrificing any aggression. It wove in folk elements without overdoing them to the point of cheesiness, and brought enough of the extreme elements—the searing, screeched vocals; the occasional blast beats—to counteract them perfectly. Where some folk metal albums might make you want to reach for your Magic cards and imagine a great warrior storming across an open plain, Sagas made you actually reach for your axe and war paint.

Six years after that first listen, what’s still most striking to me about the album is how many different ways it manages to kick your ass. Until the mid-album respite of “Heiderauche,” everything you see here is, ostensibly, an upbeat ass kicker—but each song’s got its own unique highlights within that template to really hook you. On “Blut im Auge,” it’s the overly-dramatic-yet-totally-awesome bridge section that sees vocalist Helge Stang howl himself into oblivion; later, on “Snuffel,” it’s the mid-song change-of-pace riff that can’t help but resemble a symphonic metal take on ZZ Top’s “La Grange”—which has no business working out as well as it does.

After “Heiderauche,” though, things take on a different, more epic feel. The songs get longer and weightier, with each delivering an immensely satisfying payoff. All told, the album’s final five songs combine for a longer run time (42:38) than its first eight (36:37)—and for the most part, they all hold up under the added song lengths. Even at seven-and-a-half and eight minutes long, respectively, “Die Weide und der Fluß” and “Des Sänger Fluch” never once get boring. (Really, the lone exception is “Dammerung,” which never quite distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack and ends up feeling like a throwaway track.)

And then, there’s “Mana”—the 16-and-a-half-minute closer. That kind of run-time is intimidating for any band, but especially so in a genre so inherently prone to moments of self-serious overkill. And okay, the pan flute solo around four minutes in—yep, that’s a thing—is a bit much, but it’s really the song’s lone slip-up. (And at any rate, the windy, symphonic chord shapes that come in a little past the eight-minute mark more than make up for it. It’s positively drool-worthy.) Equilibrium’s done better epics—I’d give the nod to “Kurzes Epos,” the closer of their next album, Rekreatur, over this—but ultimately, this kind of song is where the band’s most in-their-element, and it really shows.

All told, Sagas makes for 80 great minutes. So brace yourself, sharpen your sword, and get ready for battle.

Keep it heavy,
Dan

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