"some music was meant to stay underground..."

Heidevolk - "Batavi" (CD)

Heidevolk - "Batavi" CD cover image

"Batavi" track listing:

1. Een Nieuw Begin
2. De Toekomst Lonkt
3. Het Verbond Met Rome
4. Wapenbroeders
5. In Het Woud Gezworen
6. Veleda
7. Als De Dood Weer Naar Ons Lacht
8. Einde Der Zege
9. Vrijgevochten

Reviewed by on February 14, 2012

"You know we've reached an epoch when the guitar, of all things, is a band's secret weapon."

Over time, the worldwide film industry’s output gave rise to the term “genre picture,” uttered with calculation by marketing men (and snobbish contempt by cinephiles) to describe movies that embodied a safe, tested formula. Your standard romcoms and “Die Hard” knockoffs were so tethered to those formulas, so indebted to their influences, that defining them as individual works became a moot point as soon as the next flavor of the week hit the theaters.

A similar parallel runs deep in heavy metal at large. When a handful of bands blaze a trail and pioneer a subgenre, it’s left up to the impressionable musicians in their wake to keep the formula fresh and vital, lest they wind up in the ash heap of expendable, derivative artists that served a temporary purpose, once upon a time. In Heidevolk’s case, the jury is still out.

On their fourth full-length, Heidevolk exhibits some familiar and rather predictable tendencies that nestle them quite snugly within the contentious folk metal subgenre. Even the conceptual lyrics in their native Dutch, musing on their Germanic ancestors’ ancient struggle with the sprawling Roman Empire, are in danger of eliciting blasé shrugs from genre aficionados spread too thin to fully delve into what makes Heidevolk tick. Plus, said foreign lyrics, the consummate “folkish” melodies, and the bass-and-baritone dual vocal harmonizing tend to echo recent work by Sweden’s Falconer. The individuality and passion are certainly there, but won’t garner any new admirers or sway the unconverted on their own.

What may accomplish that feat, however, is the streamlined songwriting. Unlike many acts in this increasingly gimmick-littered musical style, Heidevolk anchors the core of its sound in straightforward, old-fashioned riffs and power chords. You know we’ve reached an epoch when the guitar, of all things, is a band’s secret weapon, but that’s the case here, and it only strengthens “Batavi” by orders of magnitude. The band couldn’t have picked a better opener than “Een Nieuw Begin,” where guitars, bass, and drums synthesize in an ominous, rumbling march. Much of “Batavi” refers to this mid-tempo blueprint, occasionally veering off into speedy adrenaline-fueled bliss (the brilliant “In Hed Woud Gezworen”) or lumbering rock (evocative closer “Vrijgevochten”). Traditional strings, that expected folk metal staple, are used sparingly (and to greater effect) on select cuts, including the diverse “Wapenbroeders,” the mournful acoustic interlude “Veleda,” and the slightly thrashy “Einde Der Zege.”

Ultimately, the power and integrity of this music fills out the restrained vocals and does them full justice, resulting in an attractive sonic interplay that isn’t always achieved in a subgenre that’s devolved into window dressing. Heidevolk may not be the world’s most original band on the surface, but the effort and care they’ve poured into these nine tracks elevates their talent to a brighter, more visible level.

Highs: Reliance on rock-solid, traditional metal instrumentation - as opposed to worn-out folk metal gimmickry.

Lows: Subgenre non-fans may shrug this off as an unremarkable release without giving it a chance.

Bottom line: A collection of well-written, powerful, heavy songs that suggests potential to transcend the folk metal subgenre.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)