posted on 4/2008 By:
I don't spend a lot of time listening to Viking folk metal, and I don't know why. I quite enjoy it. It's just so damn peppy and fun. Since I’ve been on a bit of a sludge binge lately, it’s nice to treat my ears to something melodic, triumphant, and decidedly not opiate-ravaged.
Heidevolk hails from Holland (or, if you prefer geographical nomenclatures that sound like polite references to your genitalia, "The Netherlands"). Their first record, 2005’s De Strijdlust Is Geboren, garnered some positive interest, although I myself have never spent much time with it. With Walhalla Wacht, the band jumps to Napalm Records and drops this, their second record, a stellar platter of bouncy, aggressive, fist-pumping battle metal, replete with operatic vocals, traditional folk instruments, and some truly killer songwriting.
The lyrics all are in Dutch, which I don’t speak, so I have no idea what these songs are about. I imagine them to be about fighting and pillaging and swords and the total awesomeness of the year 1390 and all that, but that’s just the vibe I get from the music. All the press info indicates that the theme of the album is Germanic mythology, so I’ll go with that—I took a year of German history in college, after all, so I should know this. Problem is, I didn’t study it in Dutch, so they could totally be reading a list of things the drummer picked up at Target last week and I wouldn’t know the difference. Regardless, when the songs are this catchy and interesting, who freakin’ cares…
The album opens with "Saksenland," a driving battle-ready number that evokes legions of sea-faring berserkers preparing for war. It’s just a damn big song, folks—some great guitar riffs and the dueling, soaring vocals of Joris Boghtdrincker and Mark Splintervuyscht. (See, even their names rule…) The chanted refrain is nearly impossible not to sing along with, and the whole track is microcosmic of the entire record: melodic, folky, and powerful. On the vocal front, I’m not sure who does what, which one is singing when, but the vocals here are predominantly clean, with the occasional background growl, but mostly in an operatic baritone with a cleaner, higher voice as a complement. The interesting thing about Heidevolk’s vocal approach is that duality. Quite often, the vocals are sung in tandem or in counterpoint, and that overlapping of the two vocalists gives the feel of a group of mead-addled Vikings, swinging their steins and feasting on the slaughtered goats of conquered villages. The folk melodies and acoustic moments of songs like "Naar De Hall Der Gevallenen" are absolutely made for drunken reverie, with gang choruses and all. The intro riff to "Zwaarden Geheven," which is probably the heaviest moment on the record, is yet another moment that gets the ol’ blood pumping; it's fast and blasting but still uplifting instead of brutal or oppressive.
The production of Walhalla Wacht is very good; the instruments are clearly defined, and the record’s epic sound complements the majestic songwriting. Instrumentally, no one really stands out, except for violinist Stefanie Speervrouw, whose somber melodies augment tunes like "Wodan Heerst," "Het Wilde Heer," and the closing flute-laden instrumental "Dageraad." The remainder of the band is more than competent, but not flashy, and while everything here is well-played, no one member sets himself apart as exceptional.
With this record, Heidevolk prove themselves as a potent force in the world of pure folk-metal, all Viking-ed up and ready for war, and I’m on board the longboat with these guys (and girl) for sure. Well-done.
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