Originally written by Rae Amitay
Heidevolk, contrary to popular belief, is not a German band. They hail from the Netherlands, a country replete with ‘beauty and the beast’ symphonic metal (Epica, Within Temptation, Stream of Passion), but also overflowing with enough historical material to supply folk metal bands with endless conceptual ideas. Heidevolk borrows from their own culture as well as tried-and-true themes of nature and Germanic mythology. While I’m a massive fan of folk metal, I often find myself listening to it with a bit of a smile on my face, enjoying the entertainment value without taking it terribly seriously. Heidevolk provides a fantastic middle ground between ale-soaked drinking anthems (Korpiklaani, anyone?) and sprawling instrumental-based epics (Moonsorrow, I’m looking at you), and Batavi is one of the strongest folk metal releases I’ve heard in the past year (2011’s offerings obviously included).
The well-harmonized clean vocals are actually highly reminiscent of Týr, as they’ve always been. I absolutely don’t mind the similarity, as the two bands are highly different in regards to their compositions, and they’ve consistently managed to sound unique amongst other pagan metal bands that often fall into the traps of repetitively thematic songwriting. That, and while Týr has ventured into English lyrics, Heidevolk’s pair of vocalists sing exclusively in the Dutch language. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it does make me wish that I understood their native tongue. Batavi is a concept album centered around the struggle and revolt of the Batavians against the Romans, two thousand years ago. I certainly wouldn’t mind a history lesson along with my folk metal, but the language barrier kept me from analyzing the lyrics along with the rest of the music. Nevertheless, this is a hell of an album, and anyone with a taste for folk metal should add this to their collection, post haste.
The album opens with “Een Nieuw Begin”, a strong track that combines their signature vocals with resolute guitars and a rock-solid rhythm section. Things take a turn for the blasty toward the end, and blazing double bass pedal coupled with the baritone chanted vocals adds vigor and texture.
“Het Verbond Met Rome” gets downright black metal, with buzzing walls of pulsing guitars and alternating blasts that sound like they’re emanating from the depths of some dripping dark forest. “In Het Woud Gezworen” thrashes and gallops like a determined stallion, and powerful riffs layered in pounding synchronicity with the rhythm section keep things from sounding messy or unhinged.
As is customary in folk metal, there is an instrumental interlude with lovely violin and determinedly strummed guitar, but “Veleda” isn’t just two minutes of filler. While it does lack intricacy, there’s something very pleasant about the repetition of simple motifs, especially contrasted with the intensity of the preceding material. It’s a pleasant cleansing of the aural palate, as forty minutes of chugging riffs and Dutch chants can become grating without any semblance of reprieve.
The vocals aren’t always layered, and “Alds De Dood Weer Naar Ons Lacht” offers a raspy scream in the beginning as well as some solo clean vocals, along with sections of trademark vocal strata. Even though the singing styles are diversified, it’s not one of the best tracks on the album. It gains strength closer to the end, but it overplays Heidevolk’s songwriting habits in a way that makes the song a bit stale. Things improve with the album closer, “Vrijgevochten”. About four minutes in, there’s a violent roar that briefly breaks the spell of melodic chanting and reduces my literary prowess to one description: It’s brutal, dude.
In short, Heidevolk is dependable, dynamic, and damn enjoyable to listen to. Fans of the genre will likely love this release, and those who have yet to test the waters may find themselves warming to the band’s inviting ocean of sound.