Horn’s back catalogue is now fairly extensive and has repeatedly shown more than a passing interest in keeping out of step with the rest of the folk black metal brigade. This time round he’s shifted yet again. Whereas previous albums could have been favourably compared to the harsher Ukrainian styles of pastoral pagan metal – with an almost depressive edge – this time round the band has accentuated its driving, martial furrow – a bleakly bombastic marching style, not unlike Einherjer, or perhaps even a grim Subway to Sally, but far more grey and windswept. Just like that weather-beaten ‘Tower on the Hill’ as referred to in the title.
The pagan atmospheres incorporate violins, grim chants and have a very Viking feel (or perhaps Saxon, would be a better stab given the band’s West Rhine origins). At times almost a Tyr-style barroom stomp (a bar full of sack-cloth shirted, stein-swilling sons and daughters from somewhere around the turn of the 14th century where the likes of me would have last about 30 seconds, I should add). The first track, Alles in einem Schnitt, with its suddenly rising folk chord seems designed to overtly point out that Horn has a knack for infectious, if sombre, melodies while splicing an axe-head’s worth of black metal onto the end of the track to balance out what at first threatens to descend a little too far into a folk jig. Horn (aka Nerrath) then plays with his chosen formula, hammering out the possibilities like a malcontented pagan worshipping blacksmith on the Sabbath. So, just when you think the tone for the album is set, he picks up the pace into a boisterous, blackened mosh-pit frenzy on Die mit dem Bogen auf dem Kreuz, one of the strongest tracks on the album, proving he’s anything but predictable, while all the time maintaining that foreboding and rain-washed sound (I read somewhere that some of the riffs were reminiscent of Primordial – and I think that comparison is appropriate in more ways than one) that is in part what makes this album such a satisfying listen.
After that mid-album warlike charge things settle down into a steady flow of pagan metal but one which never loses a crusty punk swagger – all of which is perhaps magnified by Nerraths guttural vocals. The final two tracks crank up the atmosphere with the rousing Bastion, im Seegang tauber Fels followed by a faithful cover of When Bitter Spring Sleeps’ The Sky Has Not Always Been This Way (including an appearance from WBSS vocalist Lord Sardonyx who provides the only English-sung vocals on the album) – a foretelling, if it’s not obvious from the title, of the consequences of the environmental disaster that the human race is currently inflicting on the planet – a subject never more timely than under present US environmental policy (or lack thereof).
It’s a fine finale to an album that provides variety of song writing and consistency of atmosphere to a high degree. There are times when Turm am Hang is just a fraction too folky for me, and I suspect for others who’ve grown to prefer their pagan metal subtleties swallowed up in harsher and perhaps even more desolate atmospheres. But otherwise there’s little denying that this is a strong release.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)