Heidevolk: Batavi

With strong chest beating and red hot blood rushing through its veins the new album from Dutch folk metalers Heidevolk is a stirring and thoroughly pleasing release. With a firmer aggression and intensity then on previous releases, Batavi the fourth album from the band is an expressive force which excites and deeply satisfies. Even with the limitation for many in the fact the band sing in their home tongue the energetic intent and craft within the emotive sound and voice immerses one into the turbulence and theme that fuels the release easily.

Batavi transports the listener to a time of violent unrest as Germanic tribes waged war against the Roman Empire along the banks of the Rhine for domination of Northwest Europe. Alliances, intrigue, and betrayal were rife as the Batavians, the protagonists of the new album from Heidevolk, found themselves stuck in the middle of the conflict. Through their own brand of traditional pagan metal the Dutch band bring forth the struggle and fight of the time and people to great effect with songs that are as catchy as they are striking, and as proud as they are forceful.

Formed in 2002 in Arnhem, the band did not take long to draw acclaim and a strong following through their mesmeric intense live shows and releases. From their debut album of 2005 De strijdlust is geboren, coming after the demo Het Gelders Volkslied the year before; through to albums Walhalla Wacht and Uit oude grond of 2008 and 2010 respectively, Heidevolk with their defined sound of thundering riffs, folk veined melodies, mountainous rhythms and triumphant clean vocals explore their chosen genre to pulse racing effect. With Batavi they have stiffened up their sound and flexed broader muscles to create an album which leaves one breathless and fired up whilst basking in an instinctive sweeping dark grace.

As the towering rhythms and tense riffs of opener Een nieuw begin march through the ear alongside the enthused harmonies of dual vocalists Joris den Boghtdrincker and Mark Splintervuyscht, there is instant recognition that here is a galvanising and inciting experience waiting to flourish upon the senses. The drums of Joost den Vellenknotscher lead the way with a formidable hand whilst the bass of Rowan Roodbaert and guitars from Reamon Bomenbreker lead the battle cry. The sound reminds one of heavy metal Finnish band Stam1na more than of other folk/pagan metal bands showing that Heidevolk openly stand apart from similar genre bands.

De toekomst lonkt raises the intensity further, the song rampaging forth with a determination and willingness to engage forcibly whilst still surging with vocals that spill strength, confidence and pride. Musically Heidevolk are as accomplished and impressive as they are incessant and irrepressible but it is the vocals that set the band further apart from the likes of Tyr, Ensiferum and other pagan metal bands, they are simply soaring and glorious whilst retaining the power and might the music needs. The song sets the heart up to stand tall and confront whilst the following likes of Het verbond met Rome and Wapenbroeders only go to reinforce the inspired quickening of breath and eagerness ignited within.

Songs like Als de dood weer naar ons lacht, the thrash/folk bliss of Einde der zege, and the wonderful melancholic acoustic instrumental Veleda, show the diversity and versatility of band and album, a release that offers a varied feast on each and every slice of folk metal presented. Musically Heidevolk do not push boundaries as far as they certainly could but with sounds as easily consumable and uplifting in spirit as those on Batavi it is not a real complaint, and with such bass and baritone vocal might ripping through each song the deficiency is barely noticeable.

Batavi is stunning and an album that can only bring good things to the ear and music, Heidevolk use adrenaline and uncomplicated mastery to enflame the senses and show pagan or folk metal has no need for tricks or frivolities to be a genre with true heart and quality.

RingMaster 02/023/2012

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Always The Quiet Ones: Freak Show

If there was ever a release to epitomise the term a grower than it is the new EP from Liverpool rock band Always The Quiet Ones. The first couple of listens to Freak Show and one hears a strong and well crafted trio of songs which engage instantly if not distinctly. What it does not immediately reveal is how infectious that same music is and how once one gives it more attention it will return to mind often and far away from the disc itself. Though not a perfect release subsequent plays place Freak Show deeper and firmer into the heart with especially two of the songs within its expressive walls, lifting the spirit and emotions to lofty levels.

Formed in the later part of 2010, the quintet of Blas Barragan Jr. (vocals), Joe Danher (guitar), Adam Lucas (guitar), Chris Nicholls (bass) and James Lorenzo (drums), hit the ground running with lively and ear catching live shows supporting the likes of Deaf Havana, Mojo Fury, Axis Of and Turbogeist. With a show as impressive and unforgettable as their sounds the band soon gained strong attention from fans and undergrounds media alike. With the release of Freak Show the band are surely about to stir up the UK and accelerate the enthusiasm already gaining momentum to an even greater height.

The EP opens with Sign Of The Times and no reticence in spicing up the ear with commanding rhythms, wanton riffs and melodies to tease and mesmerise. The track twists and turns with great imagination and diversity. The inventive beats of Lorenzo lead the track up and down distinct avenues whilst the bass lines of Nicholls cajole the ear to jump on board the heartily driven express train of sound. Whilst the guitars of Lucas and Danher rage and intrigue to equal measure and often at the same time vocalist Barragan Jr. rides the sound with an expressive hard rock type delivery which grabs and sets off the imagination. The song sets a stunning start to the release which leaves a formidable challenge for the next track to follow.

Valentina sadly fails to rise up to the question. The song is actually very good but with the band taking a more straight forward approach with it there is not the inspirational and originality to it as so apparent on the opener. The melodies within it are graceful and the vocals once more dripping emotive skill. Musically the band is impressive and really there is not anything wrong with the song at all, but there is something missing from it which lit up Sign Of The Times and returns with full force in the closing song on the EP. With a chorus that digs deep and guitars which scorch the senses the song is certainly one that is not easily forgotten once it lays down its last note though.

Title track Freak Show completes the trio and is the best song offered. From a momentously striking mouth watering melodic crawl the song evolves into a muscular beast that ripples attitude and might within a chorus and crescendo of sound that envelopes the ear like a tempest. Switching back to the mellower tone and intent it feels like one is in the eye of the storm soon to be buffeted again by the delicious intrusion of heavy riffs, caustic melodies and driving rhythms. The song growls and snarls at times and in others offers a mischievous but inviting smile, all intended to lead you into the maelstrom of creativity, madness, and wonderfully unpredictable sounds within.

Many seem to cite early Biffy Clyro and the likes of A Perfect Circle and Tool as influences in the sound of Always The Quiet Ones and one can see that especially with the darker elements of the latter but the one band that seems to lurk within the songs, especially the addictive and expressive side was Manic Street Preachers, throughout the way the melodies and songs attached themselves with an eager and irresistible grip echoed the Welsh band.

Freak Show is quite simply excellent and a sure doorway into the heart and vast invention of Always The Quiet Ones. With already a double-A sided single planned for just a mere few weeks ahead, 2012 could and should be the year the band twists us all to their way of thinking.

RingMaster 02/03/2012

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Witness The Fall: Self Titled EP

Since their formation in 2007, Scottish metalers Witness The Fall have pulled in a constantly increasing attention and acclaim for their extreme sounds and aggressive intensity. Through their debut demo and shows with the likes of The Casino Brawl, Horizons, and Scar My Eyes the band have left deep marks and good impressions to ensure people took notice. Their self titled second EP should bring an even stronger focus upon them with its blend of metalcore and straight metal, intrusive sounds and demanding intensity.

Upon the EP, Witness The Fall hit hard and ruthlessly with a sound borne from the likes of Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall. The quintet from beginning to end treat the ear to towering riffs and merciless rhythms, which combined with the intrusive acute melodies also on offer makes the release an experience that is uncompromising and intriguing.

The release starts strong and only gets better as it muscles its way through to the excellent closer. For extreme metal fans there is plenty within the release to excite and draw from but for those less inclined to being bashed from pillar to post the melodic play and invention within is also plentiful and pleasing. To be honest the only criticism that can be placed upon its shoulders is that the music is not particularly original, of a high quality and constantly engaging it is without doubt but lacking in the sparks to set the band apart from similar fuelled bands. The indication though is that it is only a matter of time and not so far ahead.

Opening track An End To Darkness sets a blistering start with riffs to bludgeon the ear and drumming from Dilkie that demands attention. The guitars of Tony and Chris leave scorch marks with their melodic play and bruises with their stomping riffs whilst vocalist Nels growls with spite challenging with each word and syllable. A good start if not remarkable but things instantly pick up when the following song Victory assumes control.

The track is brutal, a devastating assault which grips tight steely fingers around the throat as it forces scorched melodies, violent riffs, and rhythms that leaves one staggering under their weight.  The song also fully shows the great creative bass play of Jason, an aspect not so obvious in the opener.  Though the song does not give as much diversity in melodic and sharp guitar invention it is a firmer and deeper satisfying track than the first.

The following The Dying Art Of Integrity and The Tragedy Of Man are insatiable slabs of metal which further show the band as fine musicians and sure in their delivery and creativity. There is little to dismiss about either with each song a formidable treat to digest but at this point the lack of diversity and uniqueness is clearer. Saying that though there are moments in the second of the two which border on escape into something substantially different but they never quite make the move, something the closing two tracks are bolder about.

Righteous Kill with its use of sampled words and a groove which demands obedience offers strong and intriguing diversions within the expected and pleasing aggression. This is a great step forward and improved upon further by Darkest Hour (No Surrender). The song is masterful bringing knee bending riffs, controlled and powerful rhythms plus an unrelenting intensity which overwhelms and manipulates. The song is unpredictable and apart from the vocals there is no certainty to it which is the key to why it is so impressive.

Witness The Fall , band and EP is a must check out for all metal fans extreme or not, and though as mentioned one feels the band has yet to discover its distinct voice they more than satisfies the fires within right now with this release.

RingMaster 02/03/2012

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