Metal, it must be argued, is diverse. The djent, thrash, death, stoner, black, sludge, grindcore, and spazzcore subgenres all have their place in the pantheon of distortion, power chords, and breakdowns, a vicious and visceral tapestry of all things aggressive, technical, and beautiful. What makes this all the more striking is how global metal has become in the 21st century. Bands have sprung up all over the world – from China to Africa, Mexico to Afghanistan – who throw the horns while honoring their respective cultural musical traditions. If incorporating a hurdy-gurdy, oud, or pipa into a modern-day mosh masterpiece isn’t a sign of the genre’s international reach, then curse it all and burn it to the ground (which, itself, would be pretty metal).
With its brutal temperatures and stark tundras, it comes as no surprise that a wealth of metal bands call Scandinavia home. The desolation, dense forests, and chilling climate can be a fertile ground for darker musical goals. Sure, most metal fans know about the church burnings and a multitude of murders associated with black metal, but there’s another side of Scandinavian metal, one that looks upon its homeland with respect and admiration.
Proudly billing themselves as a “Pagan Metal Brotherhood”, Heidevolk slams out tunes infused with folklore, fire, and shredding leads. Formed in 2002 in Arnhem (Netherlands), the bearded and bold sextet incorporate horn calls, violins, and assorted native string instruments into their blend of Nordic metal. Their latest release,
Vuur van Verzet (“Fire of Resistance”), is a historical concept album, documenting the northern Germanic tribes and their resistance and retaliation against the expanding Roman Empire. It’s a dense record of tribal drums and calls to war in their native tongue, but damn it all if it isn’t a good time.
Vuur van Verzet kicks off with “Ontwaakt” (“Awaken”), a grinding call to arms replete with fuzzed out riffs and double kicks. Horn calls and mournful strings in the background give the tune a subtle folk edge, expanding the sonic palate beyond a traditional headbanger. “The Alliance” stomps along with a marching rhythm, balancing heavy distortion and sullen cellos, epitomizing the plight of the Britons as they were betrayed and banished from their lands by the Saxons. Heavy stuff, but not everything is a history lesson. “A Wolf in My Heart” is loaded with palm muted chugging and melodious violins, the kind of primal anthem that will get the pit going with pride.
Most of the album fits the mid-tempo vibe, the dual male singers moving back and forth between songs sung in English as well as their native tongue. Heidevolk undeniably own their heritage, using folk instruments as legitimate sources and never as a “look at this!” novelty. Vocal duties are clean throughout the album, divided up between the two gents who lead choruses like long forgotten drinking songs (tavern metal, perhaps?).
The richest moments on
Vuur van Verzet stem from their most folkloric moments. “Yngwaz Zonen” (“Yngwaz’s Sons”) is a stirring boat song built solely on a deep tribal drum and call-and-response vocals. “Het Oneindige Woud,” the only instrumental on the album, blends acoustic guitars and a cello in a beautiful rumination on the endless woods of Germanic forests.
Heavy metal as a conduit for cultural expression represents one of the more intriguing directions for the genre in the 21st century.
Vuur van Verzet isn’t Heidevolk’s first album honoring their Scandinavian heritage, but its core beliefs in returning to one’s roots beckon a call to realizing and respecting tradition.