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Sol Invictus - "The Cruelest Month" (CD)

Sol Invictus - "The Cruelest Month" CD cover image

"The Cruelest Month" track listing:

1. Raining in April
2. To Kill All Kings
3. The Sailor’s Aria
4. Fools' Ship
5. Toys
6. Edward
7. The Bad Luck Bird
8. April Rain
9. Cruel Lincoln
10. Something’s Coming
11. Stella Maris
12. The Cruelest Month
13. The Blackleg Miner

Reviewed by on September 28, 2011

"Sol Invictus creator Tony Wakeford has assembled a cast of acoustic and folk players to create an album that isn’t dismal, per se, but definitely strays from the Riverdance-like cheerfulness of the modern folk/metal scene."

Although Sol Invictus takes its name from the Roman sun cult, there is nothing bright or shiny in the title of the British group’s latest recording “The Cruelest Month.” Sol Invictus creator Tony Wakeford has assembled a cast of acoustic and folk players to create an album that isn’t dismal, per se, but definitely strays from the Riverdance-like cheerfulness of the modern folk/metal scene.

While Sol Invictus incorporates an ensemble of acoustic and folk players, their approach is more distant than the seas that separate them from bands such as Turisas and Korpiklaani. Mr. Wakeford’s approach is more akin to Burzum in his slow, recurring, trance-inducing themes. There are no blasting drums or chugging guitars; however, don’t write off “The Cruelest Month” as music played by bearded men in fluffy, knitted sweaters. As related above, Sol Invictus’ music is steeped in mysticism and the grey dismalness of their native Britain skies. Songs such as “Fools’ Ship” and “The Sailor’s Aria” relate fishermen tales, complete with the sounds of the ocean (gulls, waves, etc).

While there is an eerie backdrop to both of the above tracks, each track moves at a slow pace and the sounds of water instill a slumbering feel. Many of the instruments—flutes, violin, accordion, tin whistles, light cymbals—bring about soothing noises. However, the group can push the volume and intensity of a song. For example, the opening track “Raining in April” (one of two rain-themed tracks) begins with deep violin notes. Soon, kettle drums come into the mix, hitting your speakers like the deafening rhythm of rain during a violent gust of wind. “April Rain,” which I assume is a companion track, follows a similar course, but with a militant drum beat. Both tracks show the band’s propensity for creating intense moments without heavily electrified instruments.

“The Cruelest Month” relies on unplugged instrumentation, but the group doesn’t put all of their faith into pre-Edison instruments. Occasionally, an electric sound makes an appearance, as it does (don’t ask me what type of instrument) to change the tone of “April Rain.” Wakeford runs his voice through some type of modulation at the beginning of “Something’s Coming.” These dark wave experimentations are notable on this album, but the pagan aura of wood instruments is what gives this album its grandiosity. For example, the whistles paired with acoustic guitar on “The Bad Luck Bird” conjures images of verdant, bucolic hillsides, while the rhythm of the violin and drums on “Toys” brings to mind the era of pre-video game toys.

Sol Invictus is a metal band only in atmosphere. They don’t feature electric guitars or write songs in a traditional verse-chorus paradigm. These factors, combined with their affinity for repetition and soft movements, may not be to the liking of many metal fans. However, those who have jumped onto the folk metal band wagon should dig “The Cruelest Month,” especially those who revel in the somber tones of Agalloch. Sol Invictus was a major influence on Agalloch; just check out their cover of the Sol Invictus song “Kneel to the Cross.”

Highs: "The Cruelest Month" contains cerebral, dark, magical atmosphere.

Lows: The album's rhythms become redundant at times.

Bottom line: Sol Invictus will appeal to any fan of folk music, regardless of the mood.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)