Archaeology says they were in Canada eons ago. We’re talking about the Norse explorers that (apparently) invaded modern-day Canada some 500 years before Columbus struck down South. Those are captivating stories about Vikings trying to settle what is today North America. Only to get in trouble with the Skraelings of a millennium ago and to finally abandon their quest.
This inspired several Canadian bands like SIG:AR:TYR to hop onto that very specific bandwagon (or Viking ship) and start riffing about it. And not only that. The mystical lands of the Canadian outback and its fascinating history motivated a small but very able bunch of Extreme Metal bands to reach new heights of excellence. Outfits that often play some sort of paganized Folk Metal or outright virulent Black Metal. The Ontario-based Hexenklad is one of them.
At least the band wastes no time with those friggin’ intros. Instead, Heathenheart forcefully lumbers into motion with a war cry on their title song.1) With an unclean vocal style that insanely reminded me of late Varg,2) some sort of Pagan Death Metal with those shrill screeches that just will annoy the heck out of you after a while. And that’s not necessarily a great thing.
The record for sure doesn’t hide its origins. A mix of Pagan and Folk Metal that comes with hints to Thrawsunblat, a dram or two of Moonsorrow, and a few whiffs of Amon Amarth.3) And all that delivers with an overly loud full-frontal assault that probably had those compressors going on full-steam ahead.
I mean, it’s great to you use your mixing board to the fullest. But to clog your mix worse than a burrito at lunchtime is often painful on the ears. And it will wear the fans down after a while. Because this will make for an extremely long 60 minutes of airtime.
All of the above often comes with a bout of mostly underwhelming and often circular songwriting, one that surfs on (a felt gazillion of) endless repetitions. A practice that’s often seen in Extreme Metal where some sort of melody is slammed on an ever returning riff pattern until the track peters out. That’s great for mead halls and concert stages, but it won’t necessarily assist with quality.
Yet, once Timothy Voldemars Johnston‘s Varg vapors wore off some, the growls improved mightily. And that’s a good thing. If only he could have refrained from those wretched clears, things might have been so much better. On the other hand, the Grund / (John) Chalmers guitar team impressed the RMR deckhands. From sturdy riffs, over rare but juicy solos, to those acoustics, this is pretty great musicianship right there. The measured performance of the master of sticks – Andrew Chalmers – adds just the right amount of rhythm to the fray. In other words, the folks over at Hexenklad do know their way around their instruments. As would be expected, of course.
Also, once they set their minds to it and play some Black Metal, things start to sync. It’s quite impressive how the flow suddenly improves and things start to fall into place. And that provides some much-needed stark contrast to a production that thrives on the helter-skelter and an approach where every idea is pretty much game.
You’ll also find a bunch of funky little details on Heathenheart. Like the nod to old-style Doom Metal at the end of Rootbound. Or the use of a sole violin on the title song for instance, apart from the use of strings in general. You know, those get ya that taste of symphonic delights where there should be none. Oh, and let’s not forget the clarinet on We Raise a Horn.
The title track with its manic energy is probably one of the best tracks on this disk, and that despite the screeches. This one is followed closely by Upon the Wings of Valkyries. Yep, the mid-tempo one with the monologue-ish clears and the subdued blackened stomping that comes with them angry screams. That’s some great arrangement that ends on a tasty acoustic note, too.
But the tracklist also includes one major cardinal sin. A moment of silence, huh? Ran out of ideas, Hexenklad? In other words, one minute of my life’s time on this earth got wasted for nothing. It’s one of those perfect ‘what were they thinking’ moments. I am here for metal, not meditation. If I want to connect with the earth, I’ll move my ass up the hill a click or so and sit it down in the middle of them woods to converse with the Wilde Beasts. And I need no metal record for that. Just sayin’.
Ultimately, Heathenheart is neither here nor there – and it truly failed to connect to this crew. When I saw that members from SIG:AR:TYR form part of that band, I got excited. Mystique and state-of-the-art, crisply written Pagan Metal (should) beckon, right? Instead, the band delivered a production that kinda lurches haphazardly in all directions at once. One that comes with somewhat mushy songwriting and sports a rough-hewn mix that’s so overstuffed with everything they could think of, it sometimes almost drove me to despair. The piece features a few great moments, true. But the rest of it constantly pulls it down again. And that is a pity.
In a way, it’s as if they wanted to call Odin with all of their many trumpets all at once. But for some reason, he did not respond. I wonder why.