So there I am, minding my own business, taking a casual stroll through the boundless vasts endless wastes decidedly neutral zone that is the Angry Metal Promo Pit when a certain Tanzwut catches my eye. There’s the name, of course, but more importantly, the tagline: “medieval rock,” they use to describe themselves. Now, the last time I heard “medieval” applied to a style of metal, the album was The End is Nigh, the band was Apocalypse Orchestra, and my Album o’ the Year was thus. So if you tell me you play “medieval rock” and you have two bagpipers in your band, well, what can I say? I’m in.
It turns out that bagpipes and theme is actually where the comparisons to Apocalypse Orchestra stop. For one thing, Tanzwut have been around much longer. This is their eleventh studio album since the band formed in 1998, and if there’s one thing that’s immediately obvious, it’s that twenty-one years playing has not lessened their excitement for what they do at all. Seemannsgarn (Sailor’s Yarn) is a fun album. The songs are short, the bagpipes are loud, and frontman Teufel captures the rowdy, medieval vibe perfectly in his singing. “Francois Villon” is an immediate winner, and, although I can’t understand a word of German, I still felt a strong urge to shout out the title phrase every time it showed up in the song’s chorus. “Den Puppenspieler” follows suit with its huge chorus and big delivery. Songs like “Redem ist Silber,” interestingly, reminds me of early Nightwish — the backdrop of upbeat power chords supports a powerful melodic section that screams of a band that loves what it’s doing. Except instead of Tuomas Holopainen and a keyboard, it’s Alexius, Pyro, and Bruder Schlaf with a keyboard, a set of bagpipes, and another set of bagpipes.
Maybe a better band to compare Tanzwut to would be Eluveitie, another bagpipe-employing folky metal group that knows how to have fun. Like Eluveitie, I imagine that Tanzwut must be amazing to see live: every single one of the thirteen songs on Seemannsgarn has a big chorus and infectious folk section. Also like Eluveitie, however, this is where some problems begin in the studio environment. Seemannsgarn is an hour long, with thirteen songs, none of which are much longer than five minutes. There are no guitar solos, no bagpipe solos, no real moments for the keys or guitars to shine. Each song is largely defined by its lead bagpipe lines, and by Teufel’s vocal melodies. Fortunately, he’s a great vocalist, but that doesn’t do much to change the fact that there’s a lot of sameness1 to this album. After a while, the songs simply start to blend together. The choruses are all big, and the songs are all fun, but a full hour of bagpiping is a lot of bagpiping.
The best songs on Seemannsgarn are the ones that break free of the formula, just a little bit. “Seemannsgarn” starts off the album with promise. The song’s earnest leads ring of authenticity, and its interlude in particular lets the band shine in a way that they don’t really get to for the rest of the album. “Galdenvoegel” is a much darker tune, even if its chorus is outstandingly catchy, which helps it to stand out. It’s in “Gib mir noch ein Glas” that everything really comes together; the song is equal parts wistful, fun, and memorable, and an easy favorite.
When Seemannsgarn isn’t being really good, it’s still a good album with a lot of fun in it. I have no complaints about the production, the master, the talent, or anything similar; this sounds great. Every time I listen to the album in parts, I have a fantastic time with it; every time I listen to it in full, it feels a full four or five songs longer than necessary. So I do expect to be revisiting this one—just not in one sitting. This is folk metal in fine form, and I very much wish I could have rated it just a bit higher. So if you’ll all excuse me, there are apparently ten other albums of electric-guitar-and-bagpipe goodness that I really should be looking into now.