I would be a pretty piss-poor music journalist if I allowed my opinion of a work to be swayed to any significant degree by its packaging, but every so often an item comes to my attention that puts that principle to the test. When a CD drops through the letterbox, for instance, with artwork consisting of a cask embedded in a red-brick wall and prominently displaying both a band name and title comprised of stillborn puns (on the 1987 Stanley Kubrick film and the 2002 System of a Down record, respectively), the initial impression that it’s not going to be punching in the same weight category as the giants of the folk metal genre is difficult to suppress. I strive to be impartial, but make no mistake; when I pushed the play button for Spill this Album, the debut EP of Italian act Folk Metal Jacket, I did so out of a combination of resigned obligation and morbid curiosity rather than enthusiasm (also, Paddy thought the name was funny).
Having gone in not really knowing what to expect, the product I was confronted with sounded like a band who had heard Children of Bodom’s cover of “Lookin’ out my Back Door” (originally by Creedence Clearwater Revival) and found it to be the absolute height of artistic inspiration. 5 tracks of jaunty, up-tempo melodeath totalling 22 minutes, and if they were any less substantial, I imagine they’d blow away in a light breeze. Well, the Children of Bodom comparison isn’t completely accurate, I suppose – there’s just as much Ensiferum in here. The bouncy rhythm and gang shouts of “Satyriasis” are cribbed straight from “One More Magic Potion” just as surely as the galloping riffs in “Mosh ‘n’ Storm” owe their presence to “Blood is the Price of Glory.” Honestly, being generic is not in itself a transgression, but Folk Metal Jacket are so gormless and magpie-like in their second-hand appropriation of ideas that the only reasonable response is to roll your eyes.
Fair’s fair; the musicians in Folk Metal Jacket are technically competent, remaining precise and tight even at considerable tempos, which is more than can be said for some second-generation folk metal acts. There are points where the band slot into a groove and come together as a unit very nicely, in particular the duelling guitar solos at the climax of opener “The Battle” played over a nice, catchy arena-rock beat, where the song momentarily gets really quite good. There are a couple of annoying elements working throughout to dampen any enjoyment, however. One is Mattia Barbieri’s intrusive banjo, its superfluous plinkety-plunk mimicking the guitar in a bid to be noticed while contributing nothing useful (“Hey guys! Can I join in?” one imagines Barbieri shouting to his bandmates). The other is vocalist Riccardo Zanasi’s adoption of a strangled yelp on loan from Alexi Laiho, that most useless of harsh vocal styles that works to undermine any sense of mystique or personality here just as it does in Children of Bodom, and anywhere else it crops up, really (Thousand Swords by Whispered might have been one of the best metal albums of 2010 without it).
Even leaving those two glaring issues aside, Spill this Album is bog standard and forgettable, a rote recitation of genre conventions that doesn’t even bring to bear the frivolous gaiety that the title would seem to suggest. It doesn’t aggravate the ears, but in a year that’s seen the release of both Aether Realm’s One Chosen by the Gods and Suidakra’s Eternal Defiance, I can’t imagine that the life of even the most fervent folk metal devotee would be diminished without it.
01) The Battle
02) Mosh ‘n’ Storm
04) Delirium Tremens
05) Winter Fog