Hexenklad – Heathenheart Review

Canada’s Hexenklad is a semi-supergroup of sorts, boasting members of SIG:AR:TYR, Eclipse Eternal and Pagan Ritual.1 On their second full-length Heathenheart they dish out a wide-ranging variety of pagan black/folk tunes bearing marks ranging from Moonsorrow, Ensiferum, and Windir. They’ve also taken the opportunity to pose for some excellently over-the-top LARP Guild photos and videos.2 Talent is abundant, as is the ambition. It’s the latter feature that may be a bug, for as good as some of this material is, this is a wildly inconsistent, scattershot kind of release with the bad and the ugly blasting the good with arcane lighting bolt spells until all the mana is gone. You gotta conserve that stuff, kids.

Let’s focus on the good first. The first seven tracks are all good to very good examples of dynamic blackened folk with a seriously epic bent. The opening title track Is a barnburner of a ditty meshing the epic, sword shaking fury of Ensiferum with the intensity of vintage Moonsorrow. Drums blast, icy trems fly like ravens and the urge to sack and pillage grows in your hammerheart. The melodies are memorable and it’s hard not to get caught up in the wild exuberance the band injects into every note. This high level of songsmithing continues into the darker, more raw “Cold Beauty of Winter” as frozen vistas are painted with scathing riffs and a wall of blastbeats that lays off just long enough for tasteful Maiden-esque guitar plucking to set the stage for Amon Amarth battle marches. Aside from being a bit too long, the band runs a clinic on dynamic writing here. “Dark Moon in Capricorn” may be the most beguiling cut, with shades of gothic metal and melodeath creating interesting contrasts with the black metal fury. My personal favorite arrives with “The Raven Return to the Knoll” which is a fast, furious head stomper with enough energy to power several small Norwegian hamlets. It’s impossible to dislike even for a guy like me who thinks black metal saw its heyday in 1994.

After such a long string of successes, it makes it all the more disheartening when the rug gets pulled out by the album’s back half. Starting with “Beware the Outstretched Hand” the album shifts in tone and direction toward moodier, more experimental folk balladry and with the shift nearly all the fire and excitement is jettisoned. “Beware” delivers medieval chamber folk music and does so with skill, adorning it with segments that sound like they were taken from unreleased Maiden epics, but it’s just not very compelling runs at least 2 minutes too long. “Upon Wings of Valkyries” is 7 minutes of wandering experimentation and though specific pieces hold interest, the end product is a major slog. Worst of the bunch is closer “We Raise a Horn” which is a cheerful salute to the Norse Gods of olde, which I certainly support in principle, but the execution renders it Powerwolf-grade cheeseball, and the chorus is a cringey sea shanty that feels like easy listening Amon Amarth. It’s a Hexenbad song that ends what could have been a great mini LP with a whimper and thud. At just over an hour, Heathenheart is way too long and bloated. Even the best cuts suffer from editing issues, and nearly every track could use trimming. When half the album is of questionable quality, this becomes a ginormous issue.

There’s no way to knock the performances or the talent involved though. Musically everyone is on point. The black metal is savage and grand in scope and the folk elements are well implemented, sometimes recalling vintage Hexvessel and Falkenbach. Timothy Voldemars Johnston’s vocals are good and he proves himself a versatile performer as he ranges between blackened screams and sedate folk singing.  He injects a lot of personality into the material and he’s a big reason the good stuff is so good. Michael Grund (SIG:AR:TYR) and John Chalmers (Pagan Ritual) bring a lot of technical ability to the Renaissance fair and adorn the varied works with all sorts of hooks and harmonies. They’re better in the heavier selections, but they lend tasty moments to the folkier cuts as well. All the shortcomings once again fall to the writing, editing, and self-restraint.

Heathenheart is one half of a great album dragged down by a vastly weaker second half. While I can’t quite recommend it as a complete product, I do encourage folks to check it out nonetheless and sample the varied wares. If you like blackened folk with a larger-than-life feel, there’s a lot here to love and it’s mostly all grouped together. You can ignore the other stuff as your conscience dictates.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: CDN Records
Websites: hexenklad.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hexenklad
Releases Worldwide: July 23rd, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Doc Wvrm took a merciless truncheon to their debut regardless of super status.
  2. Using the same real estate but with an upgraded robe/staff combo.
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