(Farvahar Records, 2008)
Calling the current underground metal scene “oversaturated” would be the understatement of the century. Literally thousands, and thousands, and another few thousands of bands are vying for the attention of an increasingly diluted and fickle listening audience. Some of these bands are quite good at what they do, yet very view demonstrate a distinct sense of originality to stand apart from the metallic hordes. Still, many other bands have been lost to the ravages of time and attrition, woeful casualties of a brutally unforgiving music scene. Some of these bands released music both high-quality and unique, and they were underserving of their early demise and obscure status.
Ohio’s Lunarium was just such a band. Formed in 2005 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Lunarium was the brainchild of lead guitarist and classically-trained vocalist Cinnead Loreweaver, alongside drummer Justyn Van Stokken and bassist Jarloc Darkstar. This trio (later joined by Ryan Cotrill and then Rygon Riffaxe on rhythm guitar) brewed a distinct and fresh metallic stew. Rather than merely rehash the tropes and clichés of the genre, Lunarium expertly blended traditional metal and European-style power metal with ancient folk melodies and mystical (to say the least) lyrics. Indeed, Lunarium seemingly scoured the pagan forests of ancestral Europe to pen their epic tales of warriors, trolls, Viking sea marauders, William the Conqueror, and sundry stories of power-metal plunder and glory. Granted, these may not be completely original themes in the storied annals of metal lyrics, but damn it if they are not effective. Taken as an aggregate, Lunarium’s self-titled 2008 CD certainly stands as one of the more entertaining U.S. metal releases of the past 10 years.
First, it would be prudent to provide a little more background on this CD. Lunarium is actually the second proper album release for most of these songs; most of them first appeared on Lunarium’s debut for Farvahar Records, Journies, Fables, & Lore. For those not familiar with Farvahar Records, that’s the indie label owned by Datis and Lea Alaee (also founders of the now legendary Columbus, Ohio-based metal fest, Warriors of Metal). That debut record generated enough buzz for Lunarium and Farvahar to team up with Sony/Red to distribute a second, remastered version of Journies with new artwork. This self-titled disc included a different track order and one different song, but it still featured 15 full tracks of epic folk metal.
Lunarium’s sound is difficult to pigeonhole, and that sort of originality is a positive quality that any band should aspire to achieve. Their freshness lies in their seamless mix of so many seemingly disparate elements that never sounds contrived. Also, what I enjoy most about Lunarium is their perfect balance of metallic aggression and sing-along-ready vocal melodies. Admittedly, and my fellow metal-loving friends know this well, I am not much of a fan of the bombastic, “happy” European power/speed metal with the big, layered, and bombastic choruses. That kind of stuff typically drives me batty, but on Lunarium the often jaunty choruses are never overwhelming or obnoxious. Sure, they are usually uplifting and joyful, but they are well tempered by the crunchy and aggressive guitar-work and a basic-but-effective production. The result is an enjoyable and engaging slab of melodic metal that doesn’t wear out its welcome.
It’s tough to conjure direct comparisons to classic acts, but Lunarium should appeal to fans of Maiden’s gallops, Running Wild’s straight-ahead speed metal and jig-like vocal melodies, Manowar’s battle hymns, and Thin Lizzy’s Irish-style guitar harmonies. Highlights include: strong album opener “Sea Dragons,” which features great Lizzy-esque harmonies; the exhilarating harmonized gallop of “Death Rides;” The “Waymen’s” catchy beer-hall vocal melodies; the explosive triplet-infused main riff of “TrollSlayer;” the complex and epic “Hail the Fallen,” and the fun and self-explanatory, “Ale.” There are no weak tracks on Lunarium, but it also is a relentless and lengthy disc, so it may be easier to enjoy this album in a few sittings. The production work, while solid, is rawer and less bright than many more polished metal releases, though that is a minor criticism.
If you’re looking for a nice break from the cascading outpouring of brand new metal releases, Lunarium is recommended, especially for fans of folk, traditional and (well-tempered) power metal. “They put me in a wagon/and haul me off to jail/so put me back up on my stool and have another ale!”
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot