Review by Alain on March 26, 2020.
Estonia is a very nice, yet little country with a particularly difficult language, very close related to Finnish language. Both are among the most difficult languages to learn in Europe. I was lucky enough to visit this country and the rest of the Baltic lands back in 2012, which was a truly enriching experience. As I was there I could discover some bands, though sadly Bestia was not among them. This is strange because Bestia is by no means a new project. The band was founded in 2000, so it celebrates its twenty anniversary this year. As it is quite usual in the underground scene the band has suffered several line-up changes with many members joining and leaving this project during its existence. In fact, only two original members, Reivo and Andres, remain from the first inception of this project. I guess this could be the reason behind the great lapse of time between its different releases, especially between their sophomore album Ronkade Parved and their newest offering Karusõdalane. Anyway, Bestia has also been busy with the release of several splits, which has kept the project active in the scene.
Bestia’s sound has been firmly rooted in the pagan black metal genre since the project’s inception. Initially, their sound could be described as more extreme, especially in the debut album Hallutsinatsion, which contains faster and more straightforward tracks, but also with an atmospheric touch thanks to a nice use of keys. They have always added an epic touch to the otherwise Bestia’s raw sound. Nevertheless, the evolution in the band's sound hasn't been huge as the new effort Karusõdalane contains most of the characteristics which define the band’s music. Stylistically, the new album is closer to a pure pagan metal band as the song’s structure and pace lacks in many moments the characteristically more aggressive touch of a pure black metal band. Structurally, the songs have a generally mid-tempo and a homogenous progression and only in some songs they a have a faster touch. Two representative examples would be ‘Ebaõnnistus’ and ‘Draakonite Jumalad’, which contain faster sections combined with mid-tempo ones. I personally enjoy this mix, because I think that it would be a healthy move if they would introduce back more faster sections, but always combined with slower parts. This mix makes, in my opinion, the songs more varied and interesting. This recommendation aside the album has some strength points, which improve the result and mitigate the flaw of a slight lack of variety in certain song structures. Firstly, the vocals are pretty good, harsh and vicious, fitting the rude character of a pagan metal band. This is a very important because if I find the vocals weak or badly performed this aspect can ruin the final result. Secondly, the guitars, tough could have a greater variety in reference to how they structure the songs, are pretty well performed with distinguishable melodies and sounding solid and flawless through the entire record. Stylistically, they have this expected barbaric tone and slight rawness, courtesy of the quite organic and old school production. One of the most interesting points of this album is how they introduce the atmospheric keys in these typically pagan metal compositions. The keys are usually more an accompanying element, tough they are not buried in the mix. They have an important presence, but they don´t usually take a main role with perhaps the sole exception of ‘Draakonite Jumaland’, where we can find a great key melody, which is remarkably good though it doesn´t last too much time.
In conclusion, Bestia has released a quite competent release. Karusõdalane has undoubtedly more positive elements than flaws. This album is a quite fun listen as it has some quite good songs and an overall solid performance in the vocals and instruments. This effort may appeal to all pagan metal fans that enjoy this style with a certain epic touch.
Rating: 7.4 out of 10567
Review by El Viejo on March 26, 2020.
Sometimes we as metalheads ask too much of ourselves and that backfires us in ways, we ask ourselves to revive somebody else's triumph by imitating other bands on the same vein. Imitation is ok as an exercise to improve ourselves or learn patterns to create new things with them. What happens here is that the imitation part is too much for its own good making the album feel old and dated instead of nostalgic, almost like a copy of Enslaved's first EP.
Leaving aside the unoriginality, the highlight of this album are the vocals, as they sound excessive, crazy, passionate and painful. If they can be compared to someone, could be a mixture of Nocturno Culto, Isahn (in some parts like in the song 'Ebaõnnistus' (Unblessing), Legion and Dead. Every aspect of them makes the album worth a listen and makes me want to come back to it. Music wise on the other hand is another story.
Starting with the production and musicality of the album both are below average. It seems that intentionally they downgraded the quality of the production to sound more “trve”; funny as the year this was released (2019), with all the available technology, it’s almost like a joke and an ode to naiveness downgrading the sound quality this way. In contrast of the circumstantial reasons of the bands from the past, that truly lacked the equipment making it sound like shit (or at least on that time made sense). This obvious attempt makes a clear dishonest approach that many bands have on their vision of music, without being able to let go the past to evolve and embrace this genre.
Musically is completely unoriginal, the songs have riffs that have been played a million times already and is hard not to point out from the start. Viking sounding beats and rhythms, that don't differ from Norwegian or Swedish Viking/black metal bands, especially when this band comes from Estonia (I expected to hear their version of what this kind of style could be, but not on this case).
It's not a boring album to listen, quite the opposite, as the switching between notes played is competent enough; with influences from Enslaved and Darkthrone, but not being boring doesn't mean original or creative, and in this case that is the weak spot on the album that affects it severely. This songs are so filled with recycled riffs that I get distracted every time remembering where do they come from, as there is not even variation on the beats accompanying those riffs from the original counterparts. Structurally nonetheless, is done well enough, flowing without over extending parts or repeating too much certain parts, having a good flow through it.
The album artwork on the other hand, is surprising how bad is made, which can be a plus, as really makes stand out the album from the rest as nowadays albums compete more and more who has the best one, and this one, like their production is laughably bad, but in the case of the artwork, in a good way.
There is something to keep in mind, that the success of the previous bands was based on their originality and not copying exactly their idols what they were doing. Their most original song, is the last part of 'Valgusest Vabanemine' (Freeing From The Light), which on the end has a beautiful guitar ending, that made me want a lot more of this.
I would recommend this album for the vocalist output, as he can make sound good pretty much anything if he is able to deliver this type of brilliant performance, and saves the album from being one of the bunch.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10567
Review by Nathan on March 11, 2020.
Estonia is not a country you hear talked about too much when discussing the heavy hitters in European metal, even though they’re geographically right in the sweet spot, being in close proximity to the Nordic countries and Poland and Russia and all of those. Maybe it’s just a population thing, as they’re a tiny country with a population much less than a lot of major cities in Europe. Aside from a few assorted atmo-black bands with few sonic characteristics tying them together, their scene appears pretty barren, most likely unable to grow significantly due to the number of shows and festivals that probably pass nearby.
The benefit of having such an empty scene, however, is that you’ve got a completely blank canvas to paint on. No one knows what Estonian folk metal sounds like, because, well, it sounds like whatever the fuck Bestia wants it to sound like because they’re the only band I can think of that plays it. It’s kind of like making the team by default - a victory of sorts, albeit a bit of a hollow one. They don't sound like anyone else, with the caveat that it might not necessarily have been a sound you want to hear. Because Bestia has existed in an apparent pagan folk/black vacuum for their entire career, Karusõdalane is an interesting album, but it’s more interesting in theory than practice if that makes sense. The riffs are half-melodic, half-playful, and have a tense, subdued sort of pride-fulness to them. They’re not bouncy like most folk/black, but they also seem to draw from traditional folk music somewhere in there, because there’s not enough aggression in the riffs nor the delivery of them to be a straight-up black metal release. It’s like what folk metal might sound like if it was created in a nearby parallel universe with most of the same characteristics (except for maybe a couple small differences, like people eat with their assholes and shit out their mouths or something). It's kind of fun, but also kind of sad, and kind of grimy at the same time? Hard to pin down what they're going for, but at least it doesn't feel familiar.
It’s kinda fun to wrap your head around - when examined closely, Bestia is rather unique and hard to find a comparable for. There are maybe some strains of Eastern European black metal I could draw parallels to, or maybe some of the more serious folk metal out there. There’s a near-indescribable feeling in the melodies that ends up being quite unique, which is an interesting trait in itself, but unfortunately the resulting sound isn’t as interesting as describing it is. The little extra touches of keyboard and somewhat unusual melodies can give vibes of something a little bit more grandiose and original, but there’s also a little bit too much reliance on standard chuggy riffs and black metal tropes that prevent this from getting the fullest range of motion they could out of their sound. Maybe that’s where the “brutal death metal influences” are coming from? It must be, because this band apparently has them, and I can’t find anything else on Karusõdalane that would even come close to being influenced by BDM. Maybe the occasional low vocals? Those aren't uncommon in black metal anyways.
When viewed within the larger scope of pagan black metal, Bestia at the very least holds up as a competent representation. It took them almost 20 years to get art and aesthetics that don’t look like a 13-year old’s MS Paint project (look at the album cover for their debut full-length and try not to cringe), and even longer to get some half-decent production. Karusõdalane is still on the thin side, with the snare and tom rolls being notably quiet, but for black metal it’s tolerable enough. The drumbeats aren’t terribly varied, so I don’t end up noticing it too much, as it mainly shows up when the drummer plays a fill or transition. It’s black metal-influenced stuff anyways, so I can generally overlook the minor production hiccups. This is worth checking out as a novelty piece if you’re curious to hear what Estonian metal sounds like, although I will say that novelty doesn’t last long and doesn’t wow you much even when it’s there. At least there are a handful of decent riffs left over once the dust settles.
Rating: 6.4 out of 10567
Review by Alex on February 10, 2020.
The unforgiving chill and frostbite of winter is upon us and pagan black metal band Bestia have with them 9 tunes to accompany the freezing temperatures. Karusõdalane is the band's 3rd full length record in a decade since Ronkade Parved in which I would have by now took up the liberty of inquiring the music featured on. I'd prefer their latest album Karusõdalane be the primary entry point and original impression of their music than to rely on the past which may/may not be so good to guide my perceptions. Pagan black metal can oftentimes fall on the wrong side of the spectrum; there's two types of pagan black metal in my view, the boring kind (black metal diluted or completely lost due to an abuse of folk and ambient elements) and the other kind that sounds like a medieval battle ongoing. Bestia's Karusõdalane falls on the latter and has much feeling to accompany it. With that out the way, the music on Karusõdalane can take the spotlight as intended; branded as pagan black metal but is not held back by its categorization as often times it crosses the stream into 2nd wave black metal territory. Keyboards are usually a thing of ambient black metal and on here such makes an appearance in providing the music with an epic feeling.
Though I am not the biggest supporter of pagan black metal I have heard some fantastic albums, also those of not so much of a favorable mark, some dark, while others have a lighthearted feel. Karusõdalane is a mixture of both you could say, some moments stand out as being foreboding whilst others lighten the mood. It’s a battle between opposing forces but also exists within a grey area of sorts almost as if it’s not sure which way it wants to go. However, instead of appearing to be a weakness of Bestia, that space of uncertainty comes as a massive strength that keeps the listener hanging on every note not sure of what else would spring forth. The element of unpredictability is important in black metal as often times the genre can grow stale. The opening track 'Karusõdalane' has that which I speak of; identifiably epic black metal without the plague of repetition. There's enough diversity in riffs, drum and synth schematics but also a stringent temperature of commitment to what the sub-genre is all about.
You’ll be made aware immediately of the snare tone that is not punchy at all, instead its almost faint/lo-fi, but this is not to be seen as a downfall being it gives the music an organic sound matching with the rest of the instrumental temperament. This is one filled with many good leading riffs and ambient sounds in the spirit of 2nd wave symphonic black metal. Songs like ‘Sokutants’, ‘Idaviiking’ and ‘Ebaõnnistus’ invite feelings of triumph all the while painting atmospheres of mystique and a tad bit of lament, they’re some of the highlight tunes on Karusõdalane which is a thoroughly well thought out and strong album. I can’t get over how well the synth is used on the record, venturing down to ‘Tüdinud Tühjusest’ and ‘Talveöös’ you can't help but notice the album becoming stronger through guitar and complimenting ambient work rivaling each other but at the same time seated in a mutual understanding of accomplishing the final goal. The entire album is strong and becomes an even more exhilarating experience with each new listening session. You’ll find it difficult skipping through songs due to the cohesive feel the album carries and sustains all the way through. Released on CD through Hexenreich Records and Careless Records also digitally on Bandcamp, Karusõdalane should be in your collection if you have a passion for the pagan black metal craft. A noteworthy effort from Bestia that would spike your interest in their back catalog and the genre if anything.
Rating: 8.4 out of 10567