Talk about coming full circle. I remember visiting the pages of Angry Metal Guy for the first time in 2010 and reading the review for Heidevolk’s Uit oude grond by our esteemed Mr. Angry Metal Guy. I bought that album and the two previous ones that fucking day (so don’t lose too much sleep over spending money on AMG recommendations; it’s been happening for years). To this day, I agree completely with Angry Metal Guy’s score but I have a tough time choosing between Walhalla wacht and Uit oude grond as my favorite Heidevolk album. The latter was definitely the logical progression from the former; providing budding musicianship, unified Viking themes, and the catchiest of vocal arrangements and choruses. However, Uit oude grond was the last album I enjoyed of theirs, as I felt that Batavi was less cohesive (which is a bummer for a concept album) and the band opted for a heavier and crunchier approach to their formula that felt like an attempt at accessibility. Their fifth full-length Velua continues the heavy trend with, not a concept, but an overall theme about the myths and legends of the respected Veluwe of Gelderland. These Dutch Vikings are back so fill your horn with mead and warm your vocal chords for folkish sing-alongs (you’ll be so drunk no one will even notice you’re not singing in Dutch) filled with burning wedding venues, Urth spinning the threads of life, swamp-lured victims, and harassment from a dickish goblin.
As with many of Heidevolk’s openers, “Winter woede” pummels your ear drums from the first note and drives hard with some crushing riffs and the signature Heidevolk vocal style. This clean, harmonizing approach has grown by leaps and bounds from their debut De strijdlust is geboren and mainstay Mark Splintervuyscht (and noob Lars Nachtbraecker) continue to fertilize it. Velua mostly employs big, melodic Vintersorg-ear Borknagar choruses with timely inclusions of the harsh vox found on Batavi. In the case of “Winter woede,” they meld these vocal styles for an outro that combines harmonized harsh vox with a top layer of Mark’s clean pipes. Cool shit and a great start for the album.
Thankfully, the opener isn’t a one-hit wonder. The rest of the album follows suit. Filler is minimal and Velua is all folked up with the kind of culture and concept you expect from Týr and the memorable melodies of Borknagar and Vintersorg. “Urth” is a fine example of soaring Vintersorg/I.C.S. Vortex similarities that bind you tighter than the threads of Fate (not that you would want to escape anyway). “Het dwalende licht” is similar in approach but expands on it by dropping subtle orchestration and violin melodies that do their part to nudge you up a staircase of anticipation toward a chorus that is downright Týrannical in delivery.
The beauty of Velua is its cohesiveness and variety minus the somewhat forced variability and conceptualism of Batavi. Like their classic releases, Heidevolk’s tactics are subtle; dropping in dashes of orchestration to bring emotion to Nirvana levels and loading up violin bows with resin for that captivating cherry-on-top in songs like “Urth,” “Het dwalende licht,” and “Velua;” the title track being the prime example. The first half of “Velua” is blanketed in acoustic balladry that seamlessly switches gears to a riff stamped with “BADASS” on its side. Conversely, the Viking-tavern anthem “Drankgelag” and the closing, English-sung “Vinland” bonus track are straightforward folk ditties that force you to raise your horn and spit their catchy choruses across your nappy beards (be sure to toss back your drink before committing a party foul during the Iced Earth-like riff of “Vinland”).
All and all, I am quite pleased with Heidevolk’s newest outing. Fearing the continuation of heaviness in order to reach beyond their fanbase with the “OK” Batavi, 2015 finds Heidevolk reaching for something local and familiar in theme. The result is an album swelling with respect and passion for culture and tradition, and it radiates convincingly through its hour-long length. Heidevolk (much like Týr) are at their strongest with rich content behind them. Though it is much heavier than their earlier releases and sports a snazzy (and brickwalled) modern production, Velua feels like the Heidevolk of old. So maybe Heidevolk still sits on the second tier of folk metal greats, but Velua does a fine job of keeping them in the top seat.