(Beg the Bug, 2002)

Tribute bands can be a waste of space.

Bands whose sole purpose is to play only the music of a specific band or musician in exactly the style of the original performer aren't adding much to the musical melting pot. There's no originality or individuality there, just rote regurgitation of someone else's craft.

Rondellus is not that sort of tribute band.

Rondellus, based in Tallinn, Estonia, plays in the delicate, highly refined style of the Middle Ages. With three previous recordings of historic music under their collective belt, the band decided to grow in a different direction. The music on Sabbatum, while sounding as courtly as can be, is drawn from the heavy metal archives of Black Sabbath. Really. Consequently, you shouldn't expect to hear electric guitars or drum kits on Sabbatum, but more genre-appropriate instruments such as the harp, hurdy gurdy, lute, psaltery and fiddle.

You won't recognize the titles, which have been aptly translated into Latin, but the album includes the likes of "Verres militares (War Pigs)," "Post murum somnii (Behind the Wall of Sleep)," "Magus (The Wizard)," "Rotae confusionis (Wheels of Confusion)" and "Architectus urbis caelestis (Spiral Architect)." Lyrics, too, have been rendered in Latin, sounding now more like something from the Gregorian tradition of sacred chants.

What's amazing is how well this album works. You likely won't be tempted to bang your head at any point of the recording, but you may well be amazed at the fluid alchemy from heavy metal to heady medieval. And any fears that this album will be dry listening should vanish early in the first track; the vocals immediately prove themselves strong, and the percussion line that jumps in for the ride adds extra spice to the sound. Throughout this truly unique recording, tight instrumentals and solid vocals keep the music interesting even as you strain to hear traces of each tune's heavy metal roots.

According to the band's website, band members are Maria Staak (vocals, hurdy gurdy, organistrum), Robert Staak (frame drum, percussion, lute, organistrum), Veikko Christian Kiiver (vocals), Miriam Andersen (vocals, gothic harp) and Tonu Joesaar (fiddle). Guests on the album are Roland Lill (fiddle), Tuule Kann (organistrum, psaltery), Mihkel Raud (bells), Toivo Tulev (vocals), Taniel Kirikal (vocals), Marju Riisikamp (positive organ) and Catlin Jaago (bagpipe).

Don't be afraid to check this out even if heavy metal is something you usually go to great lengths to avoid. To the casual listener, Sabbatum is an extremely pleasant excursion to the Middle Ages; for the more discerning ear, it's a whole lot more.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 16 June 2002

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