Wales is famously the Land of Song. Welsh artists gracing the international stage include Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Manic Street Preachers, and Bullet for My Valentine. Joining their ranks with a raw black metal sound is Ysbrydnos.
On debut album The Forest Howls at Dusk, the group establish themselves as an exciting new force both in black metal and the underground Welsh music scene. The guitars and bass, provided by Ysbryd, provide the majority of the melodies. They echo back to the second-wave sound of Darkthrone and Immortal, but with a raw edge and cleaner production that elevates the sound above its peers. Ysbryd also plays keyboards, highlighting an element of dungeon synth in the musical influences but, thanks to the flute playing of vocalist Agata Tutkaj, the whole effect feels ultimately like a Welsh version of Dawn Ray’d.
Unlike Dawn Ray’d and their political focus, however, Ysbrydnos focuses on Welsh mythology. They join a small but growing number of black metal bands either from Wales and/or focusing on Welsh mythology, such as Annwn, Arawn, Hiraeth and others. Translating to “night spirit,” Ysbrydnos therefore works very well as the name of a band whose songs look at Welsh folklore. ‘Spectral Hounds of Annwn,’ for example, takes its inspiration from the dogs owned by Arawn, king of Annwn. Album closer ‘Lure of the Gwyllion’ talks of the Gwyllion, gloomy witch-like spirits who lure travellers into bogs and marshes. Given the popularity of mythology and folklore in metal today, spurred by bands like Amon Amarth or Eluveitie or Green Lung, it’s heartening to see a band bringing deserved attention to Welsh folklore.
There are only a couple of gripes, the main one being that at a runtime of only 28 minutes, the album is just a tad too short to really satisfy. The other is that because of that, there is not much room for listeners to breathe. There is only one interlude, ‘Journey to Llanberis’, and so the album lacks a level of dynamic contrast that would really elevate it to greater heights. Had there been more melodic guitar passages like the intro to the opening, titular track, the album would have been even stronger. As it is, it’s still a promising debut, hopefully one that will provide a solid foundation on which the band can build for their future.
The Forest Howls at Dusk is out now via Repose Records and Undead Serpent Records, and can be ordered here.
Words: Nick Dunn