Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Music Review - Hguols - Maunstraut

This is an interesting album; my first reaction was to label this as medieval ambient, but as I listened more and more, I don't think I can classify it just as that. There's a lot of elements of medieval ambient and I hear traces of classic acts like Taur nu Fuin and Wongraven (and I'd even compare parts of this to Slechtvalk's first album "Falconry") here and there, but I think the main influence would be neoclassical/ambient with some definite medieval influences.

There's nothing but keyboards to be found here; no drums, guitars, vocals, or anything of that nature. Swelling orchestral and choral chords, tons of harpsichord (and I do mean TONS)  are the meat and potatoes here, and the music itself is pretty mellow and easy to listen to. It does tend to run together after a while though, and that's where I think the ambient influence comes in. There's a fair amount of repetition, and if done right, with this genre, repetition can be amazing and there's moments where it is pretty darn cool. "Epitome of Sovereign Toccata" is a good example and is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

I'm reminded a lot of old video game music when I listen to this album; older games like the Zelda series come to mind. That isn't an insult at all; the atmosphere conjured up here is extremely effective and one of the reasons I have a soft spot for this style of music. It knows what it's going for (a darker, mysterious atmosphere) and doesn't beat about the bush trying to achieve it, and it really does nail it, for the most part.

There are a few things I'm not crazy about though. The song lengths tend to be shorter (generally between 3 and 4 and a half minutes) and so by themselves aren't amazingly atmospheric, and that's why I think this is best listened to as a whole album rather than individual songs. There's also, like I said above, a good amount of repetition of ideas and it can drag on here and there. Some of the songwriting is a little odd; the start-and-stop idea is one I'm not too fond of for this style. An example of this would be the track "Epitome of Eternity (Tristmegistus)".

On the whole, however, this is a solid album that is sure take you back to dark, grim castles, long, foreboding hallways dimly lit and brooding forests. Hguols's "Maunstraut" is something every fan of this genre can really appreciate, and I highly recommend it to any fans of the medieval/neoclassical/ambient genres.

I'm definitely interested in seeing this style further explored by Hguols, and I think, with a little tweaking here and there, should there be another album of this style by the band, we might just have a rising star in the genre on the horizon.

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