There’s no messing around with twiddly, whimsical intros for Dutch Pagan Metallers Heidevolk. Nope, opening track ‘Winter Woede’ piles straight in there, brimming with their own special brand of Tyr-tinged, Ensiferum-edged Viking Metal that they have been crafting and honing for five albums over the last 10 years. The lyrical and musical motivation behind this release are the beautiful forests of The Veluwe, deep in the heart of the Netherlands. From what I can make out on ‘Google Images’ it does indeed look gorgeous, and lucky for them they had the right forest to be inspired by. Had the album been set in England’s forests it would have taken on a more Pheasant farming, off-road biking, 4×4 pounding, Badger-culling Keep-The-Hell-Out-Or-You-Might-Get-‘Accidentally’-Shot vibe. Which may not quite be the spiritual atmos the band were striving for…but let’s not dwell eh…
“Velua”, as I eluded to a moment ago occupies the Viking/Pagan territories of Tyr and Ensiferum (though, giving it a little more thought, maybe more Wintersun as they are slightly less frenetic than Ensiferum can be). Mainly guitar-driven to maximum effect, the band have more in common in the folk department with, say, Falkenbach than Eluveitie, with more traditional folk-type instruments being used to accent – but with great effect (like the excellent violin part in the catchy and memorable ‘Urth’). Almost all of tracks are not sung in English, but like with Vintersorg (another similarity both musically and vocally at times) it doesn’t detract, limit, or seem to make much difference at all. Quite the opposite – it gives a band a much more at-ease feel vocally when they can sing in their chosen tongue and “Velua” is all the better for it. The vocal harmonies (sometimes traditionally styled, sometimes a hint more edgy and unexpected) are excellent and captivating throughout (long-term 2nd vocalist Joris Boghtdrincker has now departed, but has been admirably and confidently replaced by Lars Nachtbraeker, who does a great job). There are also very occasional harsh vocals that add that bit more ferocity and impact when needed.
It’s all about the Metal with Heidevolk though. The backbone of solid bass with ever-evolving and changing drum patterns, compliment the adventurously intertwining guitars, and leave you in no doubt from the start that this is Pagan/Viking/Folk METAL. There’s some great guitar solos scattered throughout the album, adding to the diverse arrangements and interesting mood changes. Many of the usual Viking/Pagan cohorts are in evidence if you listen for them, but I like a bit of the unexpected which also gets an airing. There’s a hint of Orden Ogan and Running Wild in ‘Drankgelag’, an Ereb Altor feel to ‘Een Met Der Storm’ and the English-sung closing track is like a fabulous cross between Skyclad, Manowar, Leaves’ Eyes and Alestorm. A great way to bring the album to it’s finale.
I reckon “Velua” has gone a long way to cementing Heidevolk’s reputation as a frontrunner in their field. They’ve been gradually upping their game with every release and totally revelling in their natural home at Napalm Records, the band have quite possibly just unleashed their best work to date.
(7.5/10 Andy Barker)