Listening to the music of Sojourner, I immediately conjure up images of ancient Northern Europe & the Celtic Lands, yet surprisingly this band hails from Dunedin, New Zealand. Described as Atmospheric Black Metal with Folk influences, I personally found the style to be closer to Death Metal than Black – either way, good music is good music and Sojourner certainly deliver a decent effort on their debut full-length, entitled ‘Empires of Ash’.
The album opens with ‘Bound By Blood’, an epic, progressive track with a darker, thunderous mid-point and gentle folk-tinged ending. There are plenty of rhythmic switches and tempo changes to keep things interesting, whilst the flute and lead guitar hold a distinct melody to maintain a strong sense of structure.
An ethereal, atmospheric piano melody welcomes in the second song ‘Heritage of the Natural Realm’. The highlight for me has to be the intro and mid-song interlude, as I find myself closing my eyes, getting lost in the endless swirl of piano arpeggios and the enchanting flute melody. It’s both beautiful and enchanting and when juxtaposed against the harsh vocals and powerful guitar parts, it only enhances the dramatic effect. I’m also fond of the interchange between piano and lead guitar in performing the main arpeggio as both are effective in lending their distinct musical characteristics to this motif.
‘Aeons of Valor’ is a grinding, down-tempo track with a very powerful, epic melody. More progressive, with variations in the lead guitar melody supported by earthy bass and rhythm guitar sections. The thin, coarse guitar distortion is a little harsh on the ears towards the end, which grates against the delicate, atmospheric closing passage, though on the whole it’s incredibly well composed.
The following track is a non-Metal ‘interlude’ song. ‘The Pale Host’ features haunting Celtic-style folk stylings with a female lead vocal, flute and acoustic guitar. The beautiful, delicate piano arpeggios add greater depth to the composition and remind me very much of Ludovico Einaudi. To the Metal purist this may be regarded as a filler track, but I personally believe the song is well-placed and holds significant purpose within the context of the whole album.
‘Homeward’ is another down-tempo track, but comes across rather muddy and lacks an exciting melody when compared to the rest of the album. At over 9 minutes long it really needs a little more progression to hold the listeners attention and unfortunately this song drags on, leaving my mind to wander by mid-way through. The song is definitely listenable, it just doesn’t grab my attention as much as the majority of the other songs.
Speaking of progression, the following song ‘Trails of the Earth’ features excellent song-writing, especially when it comes to the overall song structure and development of each instrument. Whilst progressive, there is a definite Epic/Melodic Death Metal vibe here, with the instrumentation sitting comfortably between the grandiose bombast of Ensiferum or Wintersun and the raw earthiness of Amon Amarth.
The album closes with the title track ‘Empires of Ash’, the longest song and also my personal favourite. To begin with it features subtle progressions within its structure and a series of powerful chord sequences, before playing in unison with a distinctive galloping rhythm from 3 minutes in that reminds me a little of Amon Amarth’s ‘Valhall Awaits Me’. The only thing that could have done with a slight tweak is the female vocal part, as its so low in the mix that I have trouble making out the lyrics, which is a real shame as every other aspect of “Empires…” is near perfect.
Whilst some of the motifs within this album aren’t overly imaginative and the structure doesn’t always develop a great deal, the songs are still very memorable and hooky enough to avoid losing interest in them. There are definitely weak points, however I have enjoyed multiple play-throughs of ‘Empires of Ash’, both in part and from beginning to end. It’s certainly encouraging that a number of the riffs and flute melodies are firmly stuck in my mind for some time afterwards and whilst not without its flaws, it’s a highly commendable effort that’s well worth a listen for anyone who enjoys the various Folk Metal genres.