After seven years of silence, the German medieval electronic act Qntal returns with this seventh full-length album, which follows the band’s long held naming tradition with the appropriately titled VII, this time foregoing a subtitle. Founded in 1992 as a side project for experimentation by members of the bands Deine Lakaien and Estampie, the original duo of Syrah and Michael Popp were joined by new “junior” member Mariko in 2006, bringing a fresh voice and violin stylings to the long established act. This time out, the longtime Dancing Ferret Records alumnus has found new U.S. distribution thanks to Metropolis Records.
“Flaming Drake” opens the album and quickly reminds us of the strength of Syrah’s voice as her intoxicating operatic style meshes with the smooth and mellow synth backing. “Tenacious Love” then quickly reminds us how energetic and danceable Qntal’s work can be, forcing the body to sway and bob with the rhythm. The album alternates well between mellow and romantic tracks and more upbeat energetic works. Traditional medieval and analog instruments occasionally make their presence known, but largely in much more subtle and understated ways than in some of Qntal’s previous work with VII having a much more predominant focus on the electronics. “Frühlingslied” and “Flame Amoureuse” offer the most even blend of traditional and electronic instruments on the album and act as an almost refreshing break from the album’s more electronic focus. The album ends on a bit of a sour note with the rather out of character, poorly put together, and compositionally repetitive “Nox Aeterna,” followed by back-to-back remixes of “Schnee.” While there’s nothing specifically wrong with either mix, they end up feeling rather redundant and tedious since they largely cover the same ground and don’t diverge much from the structure of the original track.
Those who have followed Qntal’s career more or less know what they’re getting with VII. With the band’s minor lineup changes, it does feel like there’s a bit more electronic focus than analog in this, but the style and rhythms are still unmistakably tribal and ancient sounding. In that respect, there’s very little diversion from Qntal’s usual formula, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this band’s case. Previous albums may have carried a more interesting overall theme, but VII is still a finely crafted and lovely album.