heimdallswachtThank god – and by that I mean the guardian of Bifrost himself – that Heimdalls Wacht has returned. Last year’s full-length was all over the place – bloated, too reliant on the clichés of the genre and too long for the quality of the material involved. Yes it had its moments, but, as I said when it was released less than a year ago, not enough. Every band is allowed a foray into the wilderness and you just hope that it’s not the beginning of the end. What you wouldn’t normally expect is that the band comes back bigger and better than ever in such a short space of time.

Because, as if to answer my previous criticisms, the band has returned in bombastic black metal mood and with more frost-encrusted malice than ever before. It has stripped back all but the barest of low hanging pagan fruits to provide one of their leanest and best yet. Heimdalls Wacht only began releasing material just over a decade ago but has managed to develop (with the aforementioned exception) the credibility and pedigree of a classic 1990s black metal band. In that relatively short history the band, named after the Norse guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, has produce an enviable back catalogue. They’ve also attracted some lingering flack (not least some comments made in a long-ago interview and the band’s former link with Christhunt Productions) and have defended (/excused) themselves at length since, so I will resist getting dragged in again here.

Suffice to say Geisterseher (‘Ghost Seer’ – also a novel by German playwright Friedrich Schiller) continues to build on the band’s previous sterling efforts. It’s oozing with the dark essence of what this heathen black metal stuff is supposed to be all about. Forget plastic swords and folk instrumentation. This is all about sinister, scything tremolo guitars and bittersweet melodies. At time charging headlong into a series of dark and foreboding berserker rages at the same time making the most of the extended track times to engage in some excellent black metal explorations. Geisterseher identifies with the darker, more subtle and sinister side of the heathen genre (Helheim, Taake, Kampfar, Nargaroth and Elite would be good reference points).Here some of the previous anti-production aspects of the band have been swept aside – there’s no foggy amplification or lo-fi guitar fuzz this time. From the outset it spoils us with killer riffs (Spökenkieker), mist-filled hypnotic dirges (Taedium Vitae) and once more displays the ability this band has always had, to bring down a veil of bleak sadness (Tairach) while teasing us with the scent of melodic bliss — like the final split second of your life drawn out into a 7 minute soundtrack.

Even when the band gets carried away – as with the orgasmic battering ram sound sample on Der kommende Gott (Treffen mit Sabazios) – it still works, even though I suspect the same trick would have fallen flat last time around. Because this is a band on ridiculously competent form and where nothing on this entire album seems loose or out of place. Clean vocals, sparingly used, fit in well; riffs that sound sometimes familiar – not a problem when the album is bursting with ideas and weaves through clever signature changes. The final 14 minute blast of Anderswelt sees the band showcasing its skill in maintaining the same melancholy melody for almost a quarter of an hour but while weaving endless amounts of the band’s spare creativity into the track like some complex Odinic spell.

The scope of this album reminds me a little of this year’s Moonsorrow – but with a far less forgiving nature, less pastoral introspection and less of the progressive meanderings. Heimdalls Wacht has a sharper blade. Geisterseher is incredibly focused and consistent and strikingly more direct than the last offering. There is definitely a new hunger here. I hope it’s all about the music because this is pretty career defining for Heimdalls Wacht. Let the Gjallarhorn sound across Midgard: Heimdalls Wacht is back

(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)