Folk metal, it seems, is no longer the province of Scandinavia, Krampus hailing from Italy and proving to be one of the most promising acts within the oft-over-crowded genre to emerge in some time. Drawing upon the skills of no fewer than eight members, krampus’ secret weapon is their ability to not just root themselves cleverly in the vast heritage of traditional folk music, but to also to draw in a number of vital modern elements to create a sound that is compelling and refreshingly different. Signed to the mighty Noiseart records after drawing deservedly large crowds in their hometown, ‘Survival of the fittest’ is Krampus’ first full-length outing and it is a work of intelligence, confidence and imagination, the eleven tracks that comprise the album each serving to offer up something fresh and exciting in a genre that was rapidly in danger of stagnating.
Opening with ‘Arise (the day of reckoning)’, an appropriately scene-setting track that draws upon the lush orchestral works of Hans Zimmer to give the album a suitable Lord Of the Rings feel before the band lunge into ‘Beast within’, a feral beast indeed all roared vocals and distinctive folk music overtones, softened a touch by electronic touches that add a modern sheen to the otherwise earthen feel of the band. Melody is the key here, and for all the flaming guitar riffs and brutal percussion, it is the melancholic, haunting folk melodies that will last longest in the memory. ‘Unspoken’ maintains the urgency of the opening barrage, the guitars a solid wall of chugging brutality that may be sweetened by the orchestral flourishes of the band but which still packs an almighty punch. Meanwhile the clean vocals, whilst initially an unexpected addition to the track, provide an extra layer of detail, the harmonies a brilliant counterpoint to the otherwise searing, guttural attack of the lead vocal. ‘Rebirth’ is similarly styled, producer (and band front man) Filippo Gianotti sensibly keeping the folk elements high enough in the mix that they provide the solid, melodic backbone to the song, but not so high that they overpower the guitars or vocals. It’s rare indeed that a band produce their own debut album, but Filippo clearly is a talented musician with a good ear because the result is an album that has clear separation between the instruments and a beautifully balanced, powerful sound.
‘Aftermath’ is possibly the most traditional-sounding folk metal song here, the folk elements giving way to a stunningly heavy, full-on metal assault that recalls scene-leaders Eluveitie. ‘The bride’, meanwhile, is a more elegant affair (seemingly despite its heavy riffs) with predominantly clean vocals and a more symphonic feel than found elsewhere on the album. The star of the show here are Filippo’s tuneful, yet gritty, vocals that have an edge to them that is sharp as flint despite the more restrained approach taken here, and the closing solos are a highlight too. ‘Redemption’ sees the band kick back in to top gear, a vicious riff giving way to a death metal assault that feels all the heavier thanks to its calmer predecessor. It is, without doubt, the heaviest track on the album, the sense of rage palpable in the unstoppable percussion and churning guitars. Still heavy, but in a different vein to ‘Redemption’, ‘The Dance of lies’ holds at its heart an intrinsically danceable beat despite the stunningly heavy riffs that streak across the track. Another melodic highlight, ‘Kronos’ heritage’ is a furiously heavy piece of work and yet it is the haunting folk sounds that permeate through the mix that make this a memorable track and the clean vocals once again make a welcome appearance on the chorus. ‘Shadows of our time’ sees the album moving towards its dramatic close on a vicious streak and then the heavy, yet beautiful, ‘Tears of stone’ closes the album on a suitable high.
Folk metal can appear rather one dimensional when done badly, and it is certainly true that there has been a rise in the number of bands dabbling in the genre. Krampus, however, bring a freshness and excitement to the traditional folk metal sound, channelling the music through their own unique set of influences and crafting an album in the process that will encourage head banging and dancing in equal measure. The band themselves are clearly sure of their abilities and the quality of their compositions, and deservedly so, and the production job is first rate, Filippo clearly being a very capable individual indeed. All in all Krampus have crafted a heavy, melodic, well-written and brilliantly played album that has the virtue of memorable tunes that sound fresh and exciting even in these jaded times. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is an unmitigated success that will easily appeal to anyone with more than a passing interest in folk-infused metal.