For black metal songwriters in search of strong conceptual themes, few subjects capture the imagination like the intricate folklore of European paganism. Not only are the old myths and traditions fascinating in their own right, the celebration of pre-Christian heritage is unequivocally akin to waving a big fat middle finger in the direction of modern religion – a practice firmly in line with the general ethos of the genre. Hailing from the town of Ahlen in western Germany, Heimdalls Wacht are one such band. Describing themselves rather extravagantly as ‘anti-Christian pagan musical art,’ they write hard-hitting, riff-driven black metal with a strong emphasis on pagan cultural heritage. In the 12 years they have been active, the band have written a formidable six full-length studio albums, with their seventh, Geisterseher, due for release on October 14th.
Having previously been signed up to Christhunt Productions – a somewhat notorious label known for working with a smattering of established NSBM and RAC acts, such as Absurd and Totenburg – Heimdalls Wacht have at times faced accusations of harboring far-right sympathies themselves – a charge which the band strongly deny. As their vocals are delivered in German – a language which I do not speak myself – I’m unable to form an opinion as to whether or not the allegations have any grounding, however since they have now cut ties with Christhunt altogether, for the purposes of this review I’m prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.
It doesn’t take much of an initial foray into Geisterseher to tell that a lot of effort has gone into the writing. Each track is long and meandering – only one clocks in below six minutes – and showcases formidable musicianship. While Heimdalls Wacht lack the delicate aesthetics of the likes of Winterfylleth, Fen or Wodensthrone (R.I.P.), they make up for it with a deluge of infectious riffs and hooks which have a natural, self-assured flow, punctuated with formidable drum work and some nifty tempo changes to keep the listener on their toes. Vocals predominantly arrive in the form of harsh growls and shrieks, as one might expect, however from time to time clean chants from bassist Saruman punctuate the chaos, working well more often than not.
Although Heimdalls Wacht are predominantly a black metal act, it’s clear they source inspiration from other genres and styles as well. The chugging, thrashy riffs of “Der Kommende Gott (Treffen mit Sabazios),” for example, are pure Metallica worship, and the stripped back intro to “Taedium Vitae” is eerily reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” As such, the influences the band apply to their music make for an engaging and unconventional record, which has the power to surprise and delight in equal measure.
This all said however, Geisterseher is far from perfect. The production is functional at best, and some of the songs do feel a bit drawn out – opener “Spökenkieker” being a prime example. Clocking in at nine minutes, it feels conspicuously overlong, with decent riffs flogged almost to death through seemingly endless repetition, and this is a bit of a pity as it’s utterly unnecessary; the track would lose nothing by being two or three minutes shorter. Additionally, although paganism evidently comprises a significant part of the band’s thematic identity, this is manifested purely lyrically, as opposed to via the use of traditional folk instrumentation. Now while I’m not suggesting they should not be writing in their mother tongue, what this does mean is that for the majority of casual listeners the whole pagan angle will likely be lost entirely, and this does seem like rather a shame.
Its flaws notwithstanding however, in Geisterseher Heimdalls Wacht have written a genuinely impressive record, and considering the startling regularity with which they are able to churn out albums, it’s clear that thought and consideration has gone into it at almost every step of the way. Setting aside the character allegations made against them and focusing purely on their music alone, they have created an engaging, varied and entertaining spin on the black metal genre, and for this at least they deserve to be commended.