Originally written by Chris Chellis.
Never having listened to anything quite so sweeping in sound, I was thrown just a bit off balance when I first listened to Falkenbach’s Heralding – The Fireblade, a rerecorded version of the band’s unreleased debut album, Fireblade. Falkenbach’s previous album received what was essentially a lukewarm review from our very own Erik Thomas, so imagine my surprise when I fell in love with the group’s sound almost immediately.
My first thought after listening to the album’s first two tracks was, “Okay, either I am listening to the wrong album here, Falkenbach dramatically improved since its last recorded effort, or this just isn’t Erik’s thing,” and after listening to one of Falkenbach’s previous recordings, I have to arrive at the latter conclusion. This is one god damn amazing album across the board. The lyrics, instrumentation, and attention to songwriting are all here in equilibrium to form 50 of the best opening minutes of any folk album I have heard. If you like folk metal, chances are that you will love this album’s attention to detail and its delicate balance of thumping, melodic folk tendencies. This is really the best example of the blackened folk metal genre that you will hear aside from later period Bathory. The incorporation of instruments like violins not only maintains but strengthens Falkenbach’s folk blueprint while songs like “Forests Unknown” harken back to a more simplistic black metal sound with minimalist folk intentions, resulting in one hell of a recipe for a diverse album. Don’t be surprised if this album is looked at as definitive of its genre in twenty or so odd years in the same way that Vio-Lence’s Eternal Nightmare is looked at as a thrash classic today.
Blackened folk metal is often more inaccessible than accessible, but I think more than most albums in its schizoid genre, Heralding – The Fireblade has a chance to win over hearts that might not always be receptive to the genre based on a dislike of black metal. The guitars can be cold and dirty, but retain the same keen sense of melody that makes black metal riffs catchy. Most importantly of all though is that vocalist/guitarist Vratyas Vakyas sings for more than half of the album (and sings well, mind you), while utilizing more typical black metal vocal stylings when appropriate (see “Of Forests Unknown,” “Roman Land,” and “Laeknishendr” for examples of how this works so successfully). Not once does this duo vocal approach sound contrived, forced, or inappropriate, as Vakyas sings or employs screeches according to the nature of the song. Even those listeners weary of black metal vocals will find themselves headbanging to the dead-on ferocity of songs like “Of Forests Unknown,” where the vocals only highlight the insanely cold, violent, and dreary nature of the guitars.
If I had the opportunity to change my top ten of 2005, I’d rank Falkenbach’s Heralding – The Fireblade somewhere in my top 3. The guitar work is catchy as all hell, the vocals are amazing, the lyrics are incredibly well thought out, and, damn it, even the band logo is sweet. If you’re a fan of either folk or black metal, I better see this release in your collection, and soon.