Originally written by Erik Thomas
“This album is dedicated to Hereward the Wake and the spirit of resistance that his name represents. All Hail the rebel of the marshlands!”
Why am I excited about this album? Well other than being another Forefather release, and that they are one of my favorite bands, the album is now on a far more accessible label, and deals with a subject close to my heart; Hereward the Wake. Now here’s a quick history lesson. After the ill fated battle of Hasting in 1066, the Norman invasion was slow to reach the East Anglian marshlands, but when the Normans did head that way in 1070, they were greeted by the monk rebel, Hereward and his Danish allies at the Isle of Ely, a marsh littered maze within the fens. Ely became a hard to conquer stronghold for anti Norman dissidents-the Al-Qaeda of Saxon England if you will. Why is this important? I was born and raised in Ely. So this is an album that not only delivers a driving, epic visage of pagan heathery and valor but also touches home for me.
While Norway, Sweden, and Finland have their various Viking legacies to laud in musical form, the Brits, while having their own rich medieval warrior history have been slow to deliver their own metal hymns of storied past, but Forefather has been at it now for four albums, and the latest is undoubtedly their best effort yet. While Deep Into Time was a raw, blackened tome of pagan barbarity, subsequent albums The Fighting Man and To Engla Tocyme were generally cleaner, melodic, mid paced metal affairs, that while fine efforts lacked the sheer heathen rage of the debut. Well, Ours is the Kingdom smartly mixes the styles into one gloriously Saxon visage that purveys all that is great about Viking metal, but has a distinct Anglo-Saxon feel to it. The brothers Athelstan and Wulfstan have taken the blasting black metal musical aspect of the debut album and simply layered it with the choral vocals of the last two albums. The end result is glorious renditions of bravery, and the mostly clean vocals, instead of coming across as beer hall Viking revelry, are more stoic and somber, and well….English.
The opening duo “The Shield Wall” and “Ours is the Kingdom” have more blistering blackened percussion (albeit programmed) than the last two albums combined, and even “Proud to be Proud” starts with a furious pace before settling into a mid paced march that is impressively continued for the militaristic gait of “The Golden Dragon”. The superb “Smashed by Fate” again delivers a scathing, yet melodic stab, with virtually all blackened vocals, showing that Forefather aren’t just about lucid choral arrangements. The Mithotyn-like gallop of “To the Mountains They Fled” is classic metal heathery and shows off Wulfstan’s new found comfort with his clean vocals that admittedly have been a bit shaky on prior albums. The AC/DC-ish intro to “Threads of Time” gives way to an epic mid paced anthem more akin to Forefather’s last two albums, but is no less rousing. Personal favorite, “Keep Marching On” is a sobering, almost folk/traditional delivery but it has that grim fireplace, warrior’s prayer feel to it that gave me goosebumps as the spirit of Hereward infests the music.
There are a few missteps on the album, admittedly not taking away from an other wise superb work, but issues nonetheless. First, I’m still bugged by the programmed drums, which give the album an unnecessary sterile percussive atmosphere that offsets the organic nature of the guitars. The same for the spacey synths of “The Folk That Time Forgot”, this band cries out for a more natural woodwind and string ensemble to truly convey the Dark Ages ambience of the lyrics. And while I enjoyed the bouncy yet out of place instrumental “The Sea Kings”, I think they should give it back to Mortiis to use on Crypt of the Wizard.
However, as the recording closes with the suitably climactic and epic “Wudugast”, the sense of fulfillment that Forefather should finally get some well deserved recognition, and the sense of national pride swells as Ours is the Kingdom is a strong, proud album that is just continues Forefather’s unique take on pagan metal.
I’ll leave you with this traditional local folk song:
’Twas Hereward, ‘twas Hereward,
Fight back with sword and axe he said,
‘Twas Hereward, ‘twas Hereward,
‘Twas HEREWARD THE WAKE!!!