I’m a bit of a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to folk. I occupied the Ensiferum/Finntroll bandwagon for a decade, but the Viking folk of Heidevolk came to me as a recent and pleasant surprise. They are not Bathory, not Korpiklaani, not Týr or Vintersorg, but the Dutchmen blend the aesthetics and strengths of each into one cohesive package. Vuur van Verzet marks the band’s sixth entry in the tales of Gelderland. Dr. A.N. Grier welcomed 2015’s Velua with open arms, but to hear some folks tell it, Heidevolk have lost a step or two. Nearly a decade after the band’s consensus peak, the clock is ticking, ever ticking. Will Vuur van Verzet be the undisputed return to greatness to unite the fanbase?
Vuur van Verzet‘s open evokes Velua initially, with “Ontwaakt” alternatively scouring and soothing your folk-starved earholes. The distinctive vocal layering; the beefy folk melodies; the in-your-face Viking production that sounds like it was styled personally by Gelderland’s dragon-slayer Wichard; they all persist. However, those expecting this headiness to continue will be sorely disappointed. VvV rarely reaches for the brutal hoarfrost of “Winter Woede” or the heavy gallops of “Herboren in Vlammen.” Heidevolk opt to play it folkier, but without kowtowing to the iconic heights of their heyday. The result is certainly no less effective than Velua (an album I admittedly like less than my fellow Dr.), but with the benefit of additional depth and balance across the track-listing. To be honest, the call-and-response of stripped-down sea shanty “Yngwaz’ Zonen” and the wooded stroll of instrumental “Het Oneindige Woud” might beat out Borknagar banger “Gungnir” or Týr romper “A Wolf in My Heart” for me. VvV‘s quality picks up steam as it barrels through the spin, with third-slated “Onverzetbaar” opening a seven song stretch as strong as any since Uit Oude Grond.
The construction treads on more traditional territory than previously. The reliance of “Britannia” on its choir backing reminds me more of Powerwolf than a Viking folk band. That does not necessarily damn the track, as “Britannia” is one VvV‘s dual peaks, alongside tribal ripper “Tiwaz.” Yet a few of the more vocal-reliant tracks, those songs not benefiting from the twine of the violin or the flash of the axe, suffer. Pinpointing the culprit is not difficult. From the very start, Heidevolk‘s mic men are at odds with one another. Lars Nachtbraecker is well-suited to the atmosphere, anchoring the album with his deep cleans. Conversely, newcomer Jacco de Wijs struggles to fill the shoes of the departed Mark Splintervuyscht. His voice is razor thin, and when spotlighted, Nachtbraecker turns him upside down and shakes out his lunch money. Worse yet, Primordial‘s Nemtheanga absolutely crushes his guest spots on the “The Alliance,” chewing every piece of scenery in the sound booth. He’s a hell of an addition, but the mismatched pairing look all the worse for his inclusion.
The vocals also suffer prominently in a bumbling mix. The production is cluttered and muddled, the guitars overtake the vox regularly, and little of the music fares well at full blast. In those moments, Joost Vellenknotscher’s kicks lack all definition and exist only as a theoretical concept. This helps explains the relative strength of the record’s calmer fare, though not entirely. The folk atmosphere crafted by Heidevolk excels in spite of the production, improving their surrounds just by existing. The string ensemble adds a measure of beauty to the whole record, masterfully deploying the violin to guide the gorgeous “Het Oneindige Woud” to success and to flesh out the already excellent “Tiwaz.”
We rarely mention bonus tracks here – most albums overstay their welcome without their help – but campfire sing-along “Drink op de Nacht” might be the best folk track on the whole record. It’s hard to say what it should bump off the main listing though, because aside from the two opening tracks, VvV lacks chaff. That’s to Heidevolk‘s credit, that this deep into their career they can pivot to a different style while remaining true to their core identity and making consistently good music to boot. I doubt this will be the record to unite the fandom again, given their stylistic shift, but Vuur van Verzet proves that Heidevolk still have a lot left in the tank.