Ithilien, named after a fiefdom in Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings, is a seven man/woman metal outfit hailing from Belgium. Although seven members appears to be a lot, this is mainly due to the use of special instruments. The complete lineup consists of Pierre Cherelle on vocals, guitar and bouzouki, Tuur Soete on guitar, Benjamin Delbar on bass, Jerry Winkelmans on drums and percussion, Hugo Bailly on bagpipes, Sabrina Gelin on hurdy gurdy and nyckelharpa and last but not least Myrna Mens on violin. Together they produce a sound that takes the raw tunes and vocals from metalcore, mixes it with a pinch of death metal and then, to top it off, adds a substantial dose of folk and folk metal. This rather unusual mixture, called folkcore by Ithilien, is the genre of which Eluveitie is the uncrowned king and it doesn’t exactly come as a shock that their influence is clearly audible in Ithilien’s work.
That influence however, is not overly apparent, in fact, where their debut still held quite some references to Eluveitie’s type of music, Ithilien manages to create more of an own sound on this new release called Shaping The Soul. Since the release of their debut, back in 2013 they released From Ashes To The Frozen Land, they obviously have evolved towards more emphasis on folk relative to metal, where the balance tipped the other way on From Ashes…. By awarding a bigger role to folk-related instruments like the hurdy gurdy, the violin and the bagpipes Ithilien creates a genre-defying sound and it also adds a significant amount of complexity and variety to their songs, piquing my interest and potentially making this release a memorable one.
Merging these two opposite sounds into one homogeneous and balanced whole however, is quite the challenge. Nevertheless Ithilien succeeded in rising to it as far as I’m concerned. Despite the at times abundance of folk influences I never got the feeling of overkill in any of the songs. Right from the first tones of opener Blindfolded it is clear where this one is heading. Along the violence of the raw, heavy riffs, the upbeat drums and the harsh grunting the more unconventional instruments already demand a small yet notable role for themselves. This role grows as the album progresses, placing the violin, bagpipes, hurdy gurdy, nyckelharpa and what not emphatically in the spotlight, without diminishing the role of the death- and coremetal. Even though both styles are pretty much in complete harmony, it still feels as if there’s an ongoing battle between them where fierceness and intensity vary continuously and that is led by a compassionate vocalist.
Whether you pick the mighty Shaping The Soul, the marching If Only, the raging, heavy Edelweiss or the lively, raise-your-spirits type of song The Bear Dance, the friendly rivalry between styles and the accompanying instruments is ever-present, making this release a more than interesting musical journey. Both guitars alternate attacks and collaborations with the folk instruments time and time again and vice versa, all within the musical borders set by a great rhythm section and Pierre’s grunts that add an extra raw layer to the overall sound. Despite the somewhat gloomy goal Ihtilien has with Shaping…, which is sharing their experience of grief with you, its atmosphere, though not particularly merry or uplifting, never strikes me as overly depressing or grievous. This impression is strengthened by the presence of two songs that are almost completely devoid of metal influences, the soothing Walk Away and the sweet Emma, which offer some rest for the wicked.
Needless to say that in my opinion Ithilien has conjured up an impressive release with Shaping The Soul. Those that can appreciate metal with distinct folk influences will definitely devour this, but I’m certain there will be many more metal fans that will enjoy this one a lot. Great tunes, expert musicians, the use of rare instruments, originality in both music and, up to a certain extent, compositions, a decent production, there’s not much to complain about here. This album, to be released in February, already occupies a spot on my 2017 shortlist for album of the year.