Released Friday 6 January 2023.
For fans of Tengger Cavalry, Sepultura, Moonsorrow, Eluveitie
Bardo Thodol is the eighth studio album from London-based ethnic death/thrash metal band Concrete Age. Formed in 2011 in Mineralnie Vody in the north Caucasus region of Russia (to the east of the Black Sea, north of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan), Concrete Age relocated to London in 2014.
Based on different ancient cultures from all over the world, Concrete Age blend the use of ethnic instruments with metal creating an intriguing and unique sound.
Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is a funerary text whose lessons form a pathway to guide souls through death to rebirth. It teaches of a state between life and death, an intermediary realm of essential wisdom, terrors, traps; the potential to ascend to bliss or fall into torment.
The opening track “Hex” (track 1) opens with chanting and drums before an eastern-sounding melody played on … an “ethnic instrument” of some kind (I wish the band had shared more information about what they had used … some musical geeks like that kind of detail) before it quickly explodes into death metal blast beats and thrashing guitars, repeating the opening riff around halfway. It is a perfect blend of metal and tradition.
“Purity” (track 2) carries on the pace of the opening track with ethnic drums accompanying drummer Davide Marini. Bouncing folk melodies bring a lightness to the crushing wall of sound. You can almost imagine a swirling mosh pit suddenly giving way to traditional south Russian dancing.
“True believer” (track 3) brings the temp and decibel meter down a little with a beautifully picked melody. But it doesn’t last long as wave after wave of crushing guitars draw us towards a frantic, throaty vocal and a chorus chanting, “Six, six, six, six, six, six”. The dance between modern metal and traditional instrumentation is seamless and mesmerising. The midsong breakdown brings new textures and chaos. Brilliant!
The slower tempo carries into “Threads of fate” (track 4) which features a heavily eastern-influenced melody which is soon beaten into submission by a driving riff and later overwhelmed by another breakdown and swirling ethnic melody.
“Trite puti” (track 5) is a metal version of a Bulgarian folk song (in English, ‘Three times’), unsurprisinly features the most overtly traditional folk music on the album so far. This kind of music demands to be danced to, it is impossible to not move your body while listening to this.
“Lullaby for a deadman” (track 6) continues the ethnic tunes before switching to an outright thrash with ethnic wind instruments duplicating complex guitar runs. Another middle-eight switches gears into traditional music before a blistering guitar solo unleashes hell and a gloriously melodic outro.
Title track “Bardo thodol” (track 7) continues in the same vein, with a guitar riff that winds itself around an eastern-sounding melody that gently bounces itself into a wall of drums and noise. The layers of melodies provided by the traditional instruments gives this song a depth and humanity that is almost tangible.
“Ridges of suffering” (track 8) return us to a more straight-forward thrash song. But don’t relax for too long, the familar folk melodies break into the furore. The crushing bass opening to “Thunderland” (track 9) is soon joined by a nasal-sounding wind instrument of some kind that conjours up a swirling, bouncing track that Soulfly would sure be happy to call their own.
True to its name, “Bezdna ot ludost” (track 10) truly is an abyss of madness. Especially the passage that sounds like the soundtrack to a peasant cart chase scene. Check it out to see what I mean. This is the second shortest track on the album and the only instrumental. But what a way to end an extraordinary album.
I love, love, love cultural and musical genre mash-ups like this album. This is a fusion of traditional music and modern metal at its best. It is heavy, it is melodic, it is brutal, it demands a response. Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!
Each time I put on this album, I purposefully listened out for the anything that would force me to mark it down … but I couldn’t. Each time I listened to this album, it got under my skin more and more. Surely this is already a strong contender for my album of the year, it is that good.
Excuse me while I jeapordise the schedule for next week’s reviews while I check out Concrete Age’s other seven albums.
Review score: 100%
Imperative PR contacted me inviting me to preview Concrete Age forthcoming album, thank you. I have no connections to either Imperative PR or Concrete Age. I’m not being paid to review this. But I did get a free digital copy of the album to review which is pretty cool. Many thanks to Imperative PR, and to Concrete Age for continuing to create fresh, exciting metal.