Heidevolk – Walhalla Wacht (2008)

Heidevolk – Walhalla Wacht (2008, Napalm Records)

  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 Hallen Der Gevallenen
  9. Zwaarden Geheven
  10. Dageraad

Band Lineup:
Joost Vellenknotscher – Drums
Joris Boghtdrincker – Vocals
Mark Splintervuyscht – Vocals
Reamon Bomenbreker – Guitar
Rowan Roodbaert – Bass
Sebas Bloeddorst – Guitar
Stefanie Speervrouw – Violin

Total Time = 41:34

Heidevolk official website
Heidevolk MySpace page
Napalm Records

Until this album arrived at my doorstep, I had never heard of Heidevolk. WALHALLA WACHT marks the band’s second album and is the follow-up to 2005’s DE STRIJDLUST IS GEBOREN. This band from The Netherlands plays a very melodic brand of Pagan/Folk Metal that relies on clean vocals, traditional folk instruments, a heavy guitar and drum sound, and the use of their native Dutch for all the lyrics. Unfortunately, I don’t speak the Dutch language so understanding the lyrics is a problem but it’s the upbeat battle cry of the music and the way the words are sung that catches the ear.

The music is melodic, upbeat and very grand sounding. The blend of the electric and acoustic guitars with the double bass drumming gives the listener what I like to call the “gallop” effect. Think of Iron Maiden, Manowar, Tyr…..there’s an adventerous epic feel to the music like you’re riding into battle or starting some sort of adventure. This gallop rhythm drives the songs and, when put together with the choir singing style, it moves you. Throughout many of the songs more traditional instruments like flutes and violins can be heard giving the songs a more cultural feel (‘Hulde Aan de Kastelein’, ‘Naar De Hallen Der Gevallenen’). The album is heavy as most of the songs are full of heavy riffs and some pretty cool solos to go along with the heavy backline.

As I mentioned, the vocals are sung in Dutch and are mainly a gang/choir style that almost sounds like a chant. Everything is sung cleanly except for the occasional heavy growls (‘Walhalla Wacht’, ‘Opstand Der Bataven’, ‘Het Wilde Heer’) that lend another dimension to the battle-cry. Most of the time both Boghtdrincker and Splintervuyscht sing together and that adds a certain operatic power and depth to the words. I envision the vocals as soldiers singing in unison as they ride into battle, a very powerful image.

Bottom Line:
I’m only starting to explore the realm of Epic/Folk/Pagan/Viking Metal so I’m fairly new to the genre. What strikes me about Heidevolk, and the genre, is the ease at which the band incorporates the traditional instruments and their native language with the heaviness of the music. I have listened to some Folk Metal that is really more like Power Metal-light but every song on WALHALLA WACHT has a heaviness and a depth to the music, there are layers of sound to explore, different instruments to hear. The only negative is that I can’t understand the words but that is a small problem because I learned many years ago that the music is what drives Metal, not so much the words, and the music on WALHALLA WACHT is very good. Heidevolk will be a band I watch in the future and I will be tracking down their first album for a listen.

Moonspell – Night Eternal (2008)

Moonspell – Night Eternal (2008, SPV)

  1. At Tragic Heights
  2. Night Eternal
  3. Shadow Sun
  4. Scorpion Flower
  5. Moon In Mercury
  6. Hers Is The Twilight
  7. Dreamless (Lucifer And Lilith)
  8. Spring Of Rage
  9. First Light

Band Lineup:
Fernando Ribeiro – Vocals
Mike Gaspar – Drums
Pedro Paixão – Guitars & Keyboards
Ricardo Amorim – Guitars & Keyboards

Total Time = 44:20

Moonspell official website
Moonspell MySpace page

I haven’t picked up a Moonspell album in a long time, I think the last one was DARKNESS & HOPE (2001), and I haven’t given any of the albums I own a spin in a long time. When I started to read the press releases on the new album, NIGHT ETERNAL, I decided it was time to “re-discover” Moonspell and get prepared for a new album. Taking a listen back to older albums like DARKNESS & HOPE, WOLFHEART (1995), and IRRELIGIOUS (1996), I remembered the myriad of sounds and styles that the band has always used. On NIGHT ETERNAL, Moonspell have taken all those different styles and blended them into one of the most unexpected surprises of 2008!

Opening track ‘At Tragic Heights’ starts off with grand orchestration and a spoken word intro that continues to build until the hammer falls and the band kicks into high gear. The drums start to roll, the guitars get a little faster moving into the main riff, the keyboards build up the sound and then Fernando Ribeiro’s death metal growls take center stage. The music is sweeping and atmospheric, a very full heavy sound, a great start to set the tone for the entire album. The title track comes in next with another quiet intro that leads into the heavy guitar and Mike Gaspar’s double bass drumming. This song is absolutely driven by the drums mirroring the main riff and the growls and shrieks surrounded by the keyboard flourishes really helps enevelop the song with sound. ‘Shadow Sun’ sounds very gothic with a spoken word vocal that gives it an eerie/spooky feel until the drums kick in and Ribeiro growls through the speakers only to return to the spoken word chant. Three songs in and it’s very apparent that the vocals and drums are excellent but the guitars from Paixão & Armorim are heavy as hell intertwined with the keyboards.

Moonspell collaborates with former The Gathering singer Anneke Van Giersbergen on ‘Scorpion Flower’ to provide what is probably the most accessible song on the album, no surprise that it’s the first single and video. It’s a mid-paced song that reminds me of Giersbergen’s former band’s work on MANDYLION (1995) but with a deep male voice trading off with Anneke’s pure vocal beauty. Obviously I really enjoyed this song due to my allegiance to mid-90s Moonspell and The Gathering, I got into both bands around the same time. ‘Moon in Mercury’ immeadiately reminds us that Moonspell is powerful and the clean vocals from the previous track are replaced with a Death/Black Metal crush and driving guitars but with that atmpspheric keyboard. ‘Here is The Twilight’ continues the combination of the Gothic Metal mid-tempo spoken word with the Death Metal flourishes while ‘Dreamless (Lucifer And Lilith)’ sounds similar to ‘Scorpion Flower’ with it’s symphonic/gothic slower pace and swirling slower riffs. Back to a faster pace from the opening riff, ‘Spring Of Rage’ moves from mid-pace to fast pace and spoken word to growls giving the song continued variety. The last song, ‘First Light’, begins with an acoustic guitar/keyboard intro that moves into the main electric riff. Everything slows down for more spoken word from Ribeiro (until the bridge) where he uses his growls. The orchestration is superb with female choir vocals but not overbearing, a perfect blend.

Bottom Line:
The best Moonspell album I’ve heard in a long time! Every song is strong with a variety of styles blending into each other to provide a heavy, scary, and beautiful soundscape. Everything fits so well together: the different vocal deliveries, the guitars and keyboards blending together, the drums driving the album, and the orchestration enhancing each track. The album is dark and brooding at the same time it’s beautiful and grand, a solid blend of gothic with Death/Black Metal. One of the best albums so far this year!

Favorite songs: ‘Scorpion Flower’, ‘Night Eternal’, ‘At Tragic Heights’, Dreamless (Lucifer & Lilith)’, ‘Moon In Mercury’

Hollenthon – Opus Magnum (2008)

Hollenthon – Opus Magnum (2008, Napalm Records)

  1. On The Wings Of A Dove
  2. To Fabled Lands
  3. Son Of Perdition
  4. Ars Moriendi
  5. Once We Were Kings
  6. Of Splendid Worlds
  7. Dying Embers
  8. Misterium Babel

Band Lineup:
Martin Schirenc – Vocals, Guitars, Bass & Keyboards
Martin Arzberger – Guitars
Gregor “El Gore” Marboe – Bass & Backing Vocals
Mike Gröger – Drums & Percussion

Additional Musicians:
Elena Schirenc – Vocals

Total Time = 46:17

Hollenthon official website
Hollenthon MySpace page
Napalm Records

OPUS MAGNUM is my first introduction to Austrian symphonic death metallers Hollenthon but the band has been around since 1999. Hollenthon is the brainchild of Pungent Stench mainman Martin Schirenc and the band has released two albums: DOMUS MUNDI (1999) and WITH VILEST OF WORMS TO DWELL (2001). The band has been on somewhat of a hiatus while Schirenc has concentrated on Pungent Stench but, now that they have broken up, Schirenc has focused his attention toward OPUS MAGNUM.

There is a blend of styles here aside from typical Death Metal, some call it Melodic Death Metal, but I hear more orchestration and folk in the music while retaining a pure heaviness. ‘On The Wings Of A Dove’ is a perfect example. The song opens the album with a heavy guitar riff and manic double bass drums but with an accompanying orchestration that includes choir vocals, keyboards, and strings (that probably come from the keys). When you add the harsh vocals of Schirenc then heaviness of the music stands out. Being a new fan of this type of Metal, ‘On The Wings Of A Dove’ is the type of song that gives me the general idea of the direction the band is going with the blending of many different sounds. The old saying is “you only have one chance to make an impression” and Hollenthon has made a favorable impression right away. ‘To Fabled Lands’ slows down a little bit compared to the opener but it is still heavy due to the double bass and crashing cymbals. There are more prominent choir vocals that remind me of some of Hammerfall’s output from their first two albums. I really dig ‘Son Of Perdition’, it has this hook between the guitar and keyboards that gets the fist pumping. The keys are a little more prominent at times but that main riff sticks right in my head. There are some more solid background vocals but it’s the gruffness of the main vocal that stands out to me. The song slows in the middle for some clean female vocals (a Symphonic Metal staple) and then they are incorporated in to contrast and compliment the main vocal towards the end. It’s a little different compared to the rest of the album, ‘Sons OF Perdition’ has more of a Power Metal vibe to it.

‘Ars Moriendi’ starts with a heavy orchestration and some serious soprano highs from Elena Schirenc that are kind of like Tarja (ex-Nightwish). After the beginning, ‘Ars Moriendi’ is a guitar feast with Schirenc and Martin Arzberger shredding all over the place, including a really good solo, until the orchestration kicks back in towards the end of the song. The tempo slows a little on ‘Once We Were Kings’ and incorporates the keyboards into the main vocal and also includes the choir like backgrounds and clean female vocals. This is one of my favorite songs on the album and it displays the myriad of sound that Hollenthon is using just like the album opener, ‘On The Wings Of A Dove’. ‘Of Splendid Worlds’ is more of the same Death Metal heaviness mixed with a Nightwish type orchestration at the beginning and then the symphonic elements kick out for the verses revealing the harshness. Towards the middle of the song a cool piano comes in to accompany the guitar. ‘Dying Embers’ starts out a little slow, a little quiet, with a clean vocal but everything picks up again with the blazing guitars and bass pounding.

The surprise of the album is the 8 minute ‘Misterium Babel’, a song that experiments with a Middle Eastern/Indian style along with the harsher elements. The contrast between the softer, cleaner side versus the harsher, Death side really makes the song. There is a perfect blend of sound between the heaviness of the riffs and drums to the subdued percussion and almost trance chanted vocals. The orchestration and female soprano weaves in and out almost mysteriously as does a flute! I was surprised to hear a flute pop in around the 6:40 mark of the song but it is there and done within the confines of the Middle Eastern flavor. Absolutely the best, and most different, song on the album!

Bottom Line:
I have only begun to explore the more extreme sides of Metal, my normal genres of choice being Traditional/Power Metal and Hard Rock. During the last year, I have started to listen to more Death and Black Metal and all of the spin-off styles that accompany them: Symphonic, Folk, Melodic Death, etc. So, while I’m not an expert, I do know what I hear and what I hear on OPUS MAGNUM is really good. There are plenty of guitar riffs that totally crush and some serious double bass pounding to go with the gruff vocals but what sets this band/album apart is the will to experiment. The orchestration is not overbearing, it’s blended into the heaviness. The female vocals soar and provide a good contrast to the death growls. One of the things that usually turns me off to Death Metal is that I can’t understand what is being sung, the good thing is that Schirenc is understandable under all the layers of vocal aggression…..to me, a big plus. The production is really great: everything is crystal clear, blended together well, and not overdone. It’s hard to understand how a band like Hollenthon has slipped under my radar but I can assure you that I enjoyed OPUS MAGNUM enough to give me the kick to go find the band’s first two albums.

Favorite songs: ‘Misterium Babel’, ‘On The Wings Of A Dove’, ‘Sons Of Perdition’, ‘Once We Were Kings’

Týr – Land (2008)

Týr – Land (2008, Napalm Records)

  1. Gandkvaedi Trondar
  2. Sinklars Visa
  3. Gatu Rima
  4. Brennivin
  5. Ocean
  6. Fipan Fagra
  7. Valkyrjan
  8. Lokka Tattur
  9. Land
  10. Hail To The Hammer

Tyr - Land Promo pic 2008

Band Lineup:
Heri Joensen – Vocals, Guitars
Terji Skibenæs – Guitars
Gunnar H. Thomsen – Bass
Kári Streymoy – Drums

Produced by: Týr

Total Time = 1:08:28

Týr official website
Týr MySpace page
Napalm Records

LAND is my first listening experience with Týr. I had heard of the band in 2002 with the release of their debut full-length HOW FAR TO ASGARD but I really began to take notice when the band started to get major media attention following 2006’s RAGNAROK. I started to read up on the band and I saw that they were touring the U.S. on this year’s Paganfest. Not many bands from Europe, especially from the small Faroe Islands, tour the U.S. and generate a major buzz among fans, but Týr has.

Týr’s sound is a combination of traditional Folk and Power Metal mixed with Progressive elements. Some call the music Traditional Folk Metal, some Pagan Metal, but most use the term Viking Metal to best describe the Nordic and Icelandic themes that run through the music and the lyrics. Many, if not most, of the songs are sung in a combination of Faroese, English and Norwegian. For some this may be a turn-off but I find the different languages make the overall sound that much better. Language is a reflection of culture and an influence to the overall musical structures of the songs, using traditional rhythms and language adds a regional flavor and an exotic tone, especially to a listener in the U.S. that only knows English. Musically, Týr is technically sound. The guitars are really great and the rhythm section is tight but the vocals, especially the choir style, are particularly striking.

‘Gandkvaedi Trondar’ opens the album on a grand scale and is mostly instrumental with some vocals mixed in. I’m not really sure how this translates to the rest of the album because I think that opening with an instrumental can be a mistake. If the band is looking to establish a mood/feel to the album, then ‘Gandkvaedi Trondar’ sets it well. A grand Viking choir vocal opens ‘Sinklars Visa’ and it sounds great, it really hooks me in. It’s more of a mid-paced song with the non-English lyrics and the guitars are very heavy. ‘Gatu Rima’ is very similar to ‘Sinklars Visa’ but the song picks up pace a bit and the Viking chorus has a good hook to it, almost like a melodic traditional chant. English lyrics are mixed in to ‘Brennivin’ and the song is another mid-pace affair with a few quick guitar bursts. The are a few interesting drum fills as well as a very good solo section.

The 10 minute ‘Ocean’ is a solid track with excellent instrumental passages and English lyrics. Musically, it’s along the same lines as the rest of the album but I think I identified to it more because I could understand the words. ‘Ocean’ is a perfect example of the Progressive influence on Týr’s traditional folk style. The same goes for the 16+ minute ‘Land’, another Progressive song with English lyrics and exploring musical insturmentals. The Viking and Nordic themes to the band’s music are perfect tools to create musical epics and Týr has succeeded with both of these songs. The three songs between the epics (‘Fipan Fagra’, ‘Valkyrjan’, and ‘Lokka Tattur’) are very similar to the first few songs of the album. Of these three, I enjoyed ‘Valkyrjan’ most because it starts off quietly and slowly builds as the song progresses. ‘Hail to The Hammer’ was first released on the band’s debut HOW FAR TO ASGARD (2002) but it is included on LAND re-recorded by the current lineup. I’m not sure why this is relevant to the proper album but I’ll assume it’s to give fans an idea of what Heri Joesen sounds like on the early material from the first album.

Bottom Line:
For my first Týr experience, I really enjoyed the record. The band is technically sound and the song structures are very interesting but the Viking choir vocals are so powerful that they hooked me in right away. I know it might be a sticking point with some fans but I also liked the use of different languages on the album. When the band uses their native language, it adds that traditional folk element to the music, giving it variety and a uniqueness. I’m not sure how LAND compares to the first three Týr albums but I’m going to track them down because Týr has gained another fan. Now I’m kicking myself for missing the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival last month because the Paganfest played the NEMHF and Týr played live.

Favorite songs: ‘Ocean’, ‘Land’, ‘Sinklars Visa’, ‘Valkyrjan’