PaganlandAny metal fan will be able to tell you that you should never judge a book by its cover. You can judge someone by the T-shirt they’re wearing, of course (if someone is wearing a Def Leppard T-shirt, for example, they should be judged harshly), but a book by its cover? Never. So it was with some shame that I was confronted with the name Paganland and I began to make some knee jerk prejudgements about this release. Derivative and unimaginative were among the first ones. Still, the pagan, black, folk metal world thing still seems to have surprises hidden up its sack cloth sleeves, so with one eyebrow firmly raised, I closed my eyes (if that’s even possible) and dived in. To get the obvious stuff out of the way, this is up-tempo percussion with power metal meets black metal guitars, a balanced mix of clean and growled vocals with synths in the background to add that must-have atmospheric folky vibe. But rather than predictable power-folk cheese this is more firmly in the tradition of musical style from former Soviet-controlled regions including bands from German Thuringia (the thickly forested ‘Green heart of Germany’). Menhir and Andras spring to mind. When some bands of that ilk cross the line into less innocent ideological territory provides me with some interesting discussions – not to be covered in the space here, but maybe some other time.

Wind of Freedom is the first full length debut from Paganland after being active for more than 15 years with a fairly lengthy break or two in between. The album is a full-length follow up to an independent split release in 2008 and all the three tracks are included here in a more polished form (the other band has now folded, it seems). The band’s longevity comes through. I may be assuming a lot here but the fact the band can trace its roots back prior to the major explosion of pagan metal bands over the past decade perhaps means it can lay its hands on a little more originality than most. The melodies are more subtle, usually hitting the higher ranges, and even when they occasionally burst forth into something more typical of the genre they still manage to remain reasonably fresh. Volodymyr’s vocals, first appearing as the session addition for the aforementioned demo, are really solid and the keyboards are not overdone. If you’re not into rousing vocals sung in anything but English then you’re sunk, I’m afraid. But a listen to the first track Shadows of the Past (all the track names are translations from the Ukrainian in which the songs are sung) might be enough to change your mind because there is plenty to get your teeth into here. Podolyanka might even have you whistling along even if you made the mistake of opting out of Ukrainian language classes.

There is a huge wealth of decent pagan metal if you look hard enough and don’t just rely on the rather tiresome stuff that seems to be recycled across Western Europe and the US at the moment. Musically, Wind of Change is not carving out new territory but is well crafted and is worth a look for anyone wanting to broaden their tastes from the immediate and obvious.

(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)