If you asked me what the weirdest country that a Celtic Metal band could hail from was, Argentina would be close to the top of my list (simply because of the sheer distance between that country and the music’s region of origin). Actually, anywhere other than the British Isles is weird because of the prerequisite cultural experiences one would ostensibly need in order to make this music. I mean, can you even really call Skiltron a *true* Celtic Metal band? How do a group of Argentines come to create this music, anyway? Perhaps in an attempt to address those questions, Skiltron have included the song “On the Trail of David Ross” on their newest album “Into the Battleground”, which proclaims their admiration of the titular Scottish historian. Okay, so the band has done their homework, but how effective is their execution of that knowledge?
Musically, “Battleground” is precisely what (I assume) one would expect from an album of this style. Simple grooves, pentatonic chords progressions, regional guitar-adjacent instruments like the Irish Bouzouki and, of course, Bagpipes are all present and plentiful. That last duty is handled marvelously on this album by Freddy Mackinlay, who leads the Scottish Pipe Band Association of South America. Yes, you read that right. But hey, we live in a globalized society now; why shouldn’t that organization exist? Just another step on the way to world peace, I say. The vocals, too, remind me much more of Europe than South America, since they are almost entirely sung clean in an old-school power metal fashion, with “Besieged by Fire” being the only song whose vocals remind me of the latter continent’s more typically harsh exports like Sepultura and Sarcófago. While that aspect does make it feel a little out of place, its speed and aggression is refreshing. Further cementing the album’s retro feel are the moderately overdriven guitars and crisp (albeit obviously triggered) drums.
Despite the predictability of all of that, none of it really feels like a cliché because the focus is ultimately on songwriting. However formulaic opening track “Brosnachadh” is, with its solemn narration that sits atop synth horns and militaristic drums, it is overshadowed by the catchy and powerful “Lion Rampant.” It’s also just over a minute long, so the band is smart enough to know how to establish atmosphere without becoming self-indulgent. Closing, jovial instrumental “Esbat” is similarly modest and, thus, just as effective. The band sticks to a handful of good ideas for each song and focuses on writing hooks. While they don’t always achieve greatness in this regard, they do so often enough to provide an overall enjoyable listening experience. “The Swordmaker” has an interesting lilting rhythm during the chorus and “Prestonpans 1745” makes up for its lack of strong vocal melodies with a great bagpipe/guitar duet.
The result is something that really feels like a folk music release. However weird it is to hear Argentine’s sing about Scottish independence, I can’t deny the band’s passion and skill. Isn’t that what really matters, anyway?
Album: Into the Battleground
Released: June 21st, 2013
Label: Hellion Records
Score: 6/9 Hammers