Heidevolk - Walhalla wacht 4/5

Reviewed: 8-8-08





Tracklist:

1. Saksenland
2. Koning radboud
3. Wodan heerst
4. Hulde aan de kastelein
5. Walhalla wacht
6. Opstand der bataven
7. Het wilde heer
8. Naar de hal der gevallenen
9. Zwaarden geheven
10. Dagenraad


It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that folk/pagan/viking metal is experiencing an unprecedented surge in popularity these days. The Paganfest tour earlier this year was an unqualified success on both sides of the Atlantic, and I remember watching in amazement as 800 mostly-teenagers went absolutely bonkers to the likes of Ensiferum and Turisas at the warm-up show for Chicago Powerfest in early May. Acts like Finntroll and Korpiklaani have become formidable live draws, both in the clubs and on the European festival circuit. Austria's Napalm Records has emerged as ground zero for quality folk metal, serving as the label home for, among others, the almighty Tyr, the rollicking Alestorm, and most recently Heidevolk. Formed in the Netherlands in 2002, Heidevolk (Dutch for "folk from the heath land") released an obscure full-length CD entitled 'De strijdlust is Geboren' in 2005, plus an EP 'Wodan heerst' in 2007 before being snapped up by Napalm Records in 2008 for their sophomore CD, 'Walhalla wacht' (Dutch for "Walhalla awaits").

To cut to the chase, 'Walhalla wacht' is highly recommended to fans of the aforementioned bands and ranks among the best folk metal CDs you will hear in 2008. Not as proggy as Tyr, nor as blasting as Finntroll, nor as death metal as Eluveitie, nor as playful as Korpiklaani, nor as bombastic as Turisas, Heidevolk nonetheless incorporate elements of each of these bands, wrapping them all in a coat of originality. A key distinguishing feature of Heidevolk is that all lyrics are sung in Dutch, although 2 pages of the booklet are devoted to providing a synopsis of the songs in English, the lyrical bent of which consists mostly of such time-tested topics as medieval historical events, Germanic mythology, and, of course, beer. Vocals are almost exclusively of the clean variety courtesy of a pair of lead singers, and Heidevolk's use of chanted harmony vocals sometimes recalls the Faroese masters, Tyr. To my unschooled ears, the Dutch language of Heidevolk's lyrics bears sonic similarities to the Faroese texts penned by Tyr, as well. And the Tyr comparison crops again on "Hulde aan de kastelein" and "Raar de hal der gevallenen", 2 short pure folk tracks consisting of rhythmic chanting. But the Tyr analogy only goes so far, as Heidevolk rely much more on speed, aggression and uptempo passages than their rather ponderous bare-chested Faroese brethren. I've read that Heidevolk originally featured significant black metal trappings, and the traces of that influence can still be perceived today, with a couple of almost-blast-beat sections.

Heidevolk's songwriting is catchy as all hell, and there's enough diversity and variety that the 41-minute running time never grows boring. Within the first couple of spins, the infectious melodies (courtesy of guitar, vocals, and occasionally violin) begin to embed themselves in the listener's brain, until the craving for still more listens become overwhelming. In some ways, 'Walhalla wacht' is like crack cocaine for folk metalheads, as this stuff is amazingly addictive. I dare you to listen to tracks such as "Wodan heerst" and "Het wilde heer" without becoming enthralled in the band's web of hypnotic Dutch vocals, mesmerizing violin a la Skyclad, and bone-crunching metal.

I really hope that this folk metal genre is not so oversaturated that Heidevolk become lost in the shuffle. The talented Dutch sextet have delivered a superb 2nd CD and are among the finest European folk metal acts in existence today. Fans of the style should run, not walk, to their favorite purveyor of fine heavy metal goodness to check out Heidevolk.



KIT




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