Tuesday 14 March 2023

Heidevolk - Wederkeer (2023)

Country: The Netherlands
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Feb 2023
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There are folk metal bands who are folk metal bands because they play folk instruments, bagpipes and fiddles and hurdy-gurdys. Then there are folk metal bands who are folk metal bands because they play metal but sing about folk subjects and that's where Heidevolk come in. They check all the boxes there: a name with a folk connotation—Heidevolk means People of the Heather in Dutch; a choice to write lyrics in their native language, those lyrics having a fascination with the history of their home region of Gelderland and wider Teutonic myths; and a vocal style that suits the subject matter, not just from lead vocalists Jacco Bühnebeest and Daniël Den Dorstighe but all the other band members who contribute backing vocals too.

All those vocals are deep, lending Heidevolk an acutely masculine feel, especially given that they stay clean and melodic, albeit rough to fit the mindset that this is music from regular people, not the elite. This is music for comrades to sing together in communal places, especially with a steady supply of beer in large tankards. Drink met de Goden (Walhalla) is only the best example, not the only one, which shouldn't surprise, given that the title translates to Drink with the Gods. I may not be tall enough to feel like I could join in, but I think I have every member of the band on length of beard and, for the first time ever, that seems important. The kilt ought to give me bonus points.

I liked this album immediately. It's heavy but not fast, as if it rarely feels the need to speed up. The sound is exquisitely clean and everything is deep. The drums are at the front of the mix but they're never in the way. The guitars are prominent too, though they're clean enough to scythe through a more troublesome mix than this one. The vocals feel buried to exactly the right degree, except on tracks where they just take over. Schildenmuur, for instance, sounds like a work song, even if it's an attempt to keep time for a blacksmith rather than a road crew. There's nothing to accompany the singers there but hand drums.The intros to Hagalaz and Oeros do the same thing.

There are folk instruments here too, but they're not prominent, that angle covered primarily with voice. In addition to his mike duties, Bühnebeest plays the accordion, but that's only really obvious on one song, Ver Verlangen, and even then it's deep like everything else, not the lively instrument we hear in Korpiklaani or the quirky one we hear from Weird Al Yankovic. There's a flute, but only on Klauwen Vooruit, provided by Fabi, who's Fabienne Kirschke, who's best known for singing and playing folk instruments for Brisinga and Storm Seeker, usually hurdy-gurdy and recorder.

Those are the only ones I'm seeing credited, but there's definitely a horn of some description that announces the arrival of Oeros, a wonderful plodder of a song that guarantees to move your feet and your neck. There seem to me to be violins on there too, as indeed there must have been on De Strijd Duurt Voort and will be immediately again on the title track. Maybe there are others that I missed. Like the accordion and the flute, these are obvious enough that they won't escape us but not so much that they feel like any particular song would seem stripped if they were removed. The only instance where I think that would be the case is the violin on the title track.

Wederkeer means "again", which the band are interpreting as a return or a revival, which has two meanings. One is that they're back after the longest gap between albums in their discography, as it's been five years since their previous album, Vuur van verzet in January 2018. The other takes a different form, namely an invitation by Heidevolk to take a break from the deluge of mass media and look inside for a change. That's a quintessential approach for folk music, which usually does it in a far more subtle way, with ethereal vocals and pastoral instrumentation.

Needless to say, Heidevolk don't do either of those things. What they do is connect us to the power of the land. Never mind the power of electricity that connects us to so much, they want us to feel a connection to the land that infuses us with power just as we return that to the land. What they do they do with emphasis and inexorable might. They're not a speed metal band whizzing around the battlefield picking off targets at will. They're a slow but unstoppable behemoth making its way to its next stop, shrugging off obstacles as if they were nothing. Just check out how IJzige Nacht kicks into motion. That's pure undistilled emphasis. My muscles grew just listening to it.

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