I’m a huge fan of the King Arthur legends, I don’t mean the frilly chivalrous versions of the story that often border on ridiculously absurd. I love the grittier ones, the ones that feel as though they could have been real. To that end, I’ve always been a fan of pagan metal because it tells the kinds of stories that I want to hear. One of my favorite bands is Meads of Asphodel and their experimental take on, well everything. They have a way of telling stories from the middle ages that could have been stories from today. They frame their work brilliantly. Metatron, the vocalist and frontman, has a side project I was only recently made aware of, the Wolves of Avalon. They follow the same experimental storytelling path but the themes and motifs are more centered around English history, folklore, and mythology. Across Corpses Grey was released last year containing three songs, one of which is the mammoth length title track, a song that’s almost an album itself. Across Corpses Grey is my first interaction with Wolves of Avalon and, having known Meads of Asphodel for some time, I thought I knew what to expect. I expected a lot of noise and pent up emotion that would lead to a dramatic, and brutal, retelling of Arthur’s story. While I did get that, I also received a lot more than I was expecting.
The album opens with a soft, almost dark ambient like intro with poetic narration that I was sure was read from some archaic little known Arthurian story. Metatron is a master orator as well as a vocalist. His voice matches, or even creates, the intensity of the music, creating a surge of emotion in the listener.
The story of Across Corpses Grey is an Arthurian one, maybe. The narrator never says which battle he’s describing or when this battle even took place but given the overall theme of Wolves of Avalon I think, as a listener, we can assume it’s one of Arthur’s 12 battles. Which one isn’t really important, if it was then the narrator would have said. Instead of focusing on the glory of the battle as so many of Arthurian stories do, Across Corpses Grey focuses on the blood, the death, and the misery of the battle. This is a battle that we wouldn’t associate with Arthur because we’ve been fed some much glory and honor and chivalry about Arthur that it almost doesn’t seem possible for a battle of his to be nasty and horrific. But why? It’s not as though we don’t know how battles were fought in the days Arthur would have existed (even though we know he didn’t).
Wolves of Avalon is a great wake up call, reminding the listener that no matter what we are told, battles and war are nasty, bloody, and horrifying. Even for those that survive the battle, the memory of such bloodshed and death is never far. It leads the narrator to praise the gods of death for such a glorious sacrifice in their honor. It took me a few moments, but I appreciated the irony of the supposed Christian warrior in Arthur to praise the gods of death. The ironic and masterful storytelling of the Meads of Asphodel is never far. It’s brilliant but even better it’s subtle. Metatron’s distaste for Christianity isn’t going to go away just because he’s working on a new project.
Few pagan metal albums have felt as genuine as this album does. The way the folk instruments are used is not overly different from what a pagan metal band might do but the melodies and the weaving of traditional and electronic instruments and the quality of the production make it feel more authentic. Across Corpses Grey could be seen almost as a soundtrack. Or maybe that’s just my wishful thinking but I think it’s possible somewhere. The music is ethereal and atmospheric, everything on the album makes the listener feel as though they are witnessing history.
I love the way Wolves of Avalon tell their stories and Across Corpses Grey is their best yet. It’s full of anger, sorrow, and melancholy. It’s a dramatic album that does not sell itself as a dramatic album, it’s subtle and intense at the same time. Across Corpses Grey is one of my retrospective top albums of the year for 2016. This is the kind of album that English folklore deserves.
Highlights: Across Corpses Grey, The Voice of Steel (Nokturnal Mortum Cover)
If you enjoyed this try: Laochra, Forefather, Old Corpse Road
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