Album Review – Winterhymn / Blood & Shadow (2016)

If your fearless heart claims for top-notch Epic Folk Metal, you’ll definitely enjoy this excellent compilation of songs perfect for your mead-drinking and mud-fighting parties.

Rating4

Blood&Shadow_FrontAlthough I couldn’t see Pagan/Folk Metal squad Winterhymn kicking ass live during Paganfest America Part V here in Toronto in 2014 due to traffic issues (as you can read HERE), I went after their music to get to know more about this American sextet, and let me tell you I was impressed with the energy, passion and creativity flowing from their symphonic and progressive compositions. With that said, I guess I don’t need to mention how excited I got when I received their brand new album for review, the melodious Blood & Shadow, right?

Since their inception in 2009, these folk metallers from Cincinnati, Ohio have been bringing the epicness of Celtic and Scandinavian Folk sounds to the United States, starting with their 2011 debut album Songs for the Slain until this year’s Blood & Shadow, also sharing the stage with renowned names like Eluveitie, Turisas, Chthonic, Arkona and many others. Featuring a beautiful and sanguinary artwork by Irish artist Vasilis Zikos, reflecting a scene from Winterhymn’s personal mythos (which the album is entirely based upon), Blood & Shadow is the soundtrack for drinking lots of mead and getting in random fights in the mud around a bonfire, all embraced by the undeniable talent of four brave lads and two stunning maidens.

Blending elements from Folk and Black Metal with hints of Power Metal, the melodic battle chant Blood of the Moon kicks off the album on a high note by bringing forward a very epic rhythm with highlights to the mesmerizing sound by violinist Umbriel, followed by Dream of Might, which leans towards pure Folk Metal. Albeit slower than the opening track, it still offers a high dosage of epicness, with the vocals by lead singer and guitarist Draug being perfectly complemented by the pounding drums by Valthrun and the once again incredible violin sounds by Umbriel. And the outstanding Pagan Metal composition Blood Burner is one of those songs tailored for fans of vicious battle chants who love to slam into the circle pit with a pint of cold beer in hand, with Draug and Varrik providing some exciting riffs and solos while Valthrun doesn’t let the amazing energy in the music go down.

Less violent and with a more progressive flow (but still very impactful), Legacy in Flames offers lyrics about the everyday life of a warrior nicely declaimed by Draug and bassist Alvadar (“We hunt our prey / With our last breath / By the sanguine moon / Through realms of death / So curse our name / You’ll be slaughtered all the same / Your legacy in flames”), with its last part being highly recommended for prancing around a fire pit with a pint of mead; whereas The Summoning displays a higher focus on Death Metal guttural vocals while instrumental is purely Folk Metal, a good balance that works well for a while but that unfortunately falls flat close to the end of it. Seafarer, a “Middle Earth-inspired song”, is a semi-acoustic ballad where violin and acoustic guitars generate the perfect atmosphere for Draug and his clean vocals, a soulful break from the band’s traditional battle hymns before Silenced by the Northern Winds gets back to brutal folk music with Draug leading the band’s onrush with his imposing growls, boosted by an excellent guitar solo to properly conclude this thrilling tune.

zGroup (22)In Shadow We Ride, another classic Folk Metal tune by Winterhymn, offers the listener slower beats and a fighting vibe, with its second half getting slightly heavier and, consequently, adding some extra flavor to the overall result (especially the potent bass lines by Alvadar). And in Huntsman, a serene intro morphs into brutal Pagan Metal, with its lyrics being everything a fan of this type of music loves (“They marched across the Iron Jaw with sword and helm / Seeking fabled woodland doorways to the twilight realms / The proudest of their captains are now hunted like boars / Their banners lie in gory pools upon the forest floor”). Moreover, all instruments sound potent and sharp, accrediting it to be one of the best songs of the new album for their live performances.

The final triad of Folk Metal in Blood & Shadow begins with the electrifying The Wolf’s Head, where Death and Power Metal elements arise. The song’s riffs and solos, together with the precise drumming by Valthrun, set the music on fire, with both guttural and clean vocals and the background sonority crafted by Umbriel and Exura on violin and keyboards, respectively, being absolutely outstanding. Into the Depths shows the whole band still has enough fuel for more Epic Pagan Metal, which after a solid intro gets heavier than almost everything from the album, not to mention the heroic singing by Draug. And lastly, Umbriel dictates the rhythm through her fast and melodious violin in The Chosen End, where all band members unite to provide the listener a full-bodied composition overflowing courage, passion and pain, a climatic ending for such a professional album.

If your courageous heart claims for top-notch Epic Folk Metal, go check Winterhymn’s Facebook page, as well as their YouTube channel and ReverbNation page, and don’t forget to buy their new album at the SoundAge Productions’ webstore, at the band’s BandCamp page, on iTunes or on Amazon. As aforementioned, there’s no better way to get drunk with mead and engage into mud-fighting than to the sound of such an amazing band like Winterhymn.

Best moments of the album: Blood Burner, Silenced by the Northern Winds and The Wolf’s Head.

Worst moments of the album: The Summoning.

Released in 2016 SoundAge Productions

Track listing
1. Blood of the Moon 3:48
2. Dream of Might 3:59
3. Blood Burner 3:19
4. Legacy in Flames 4:51
5. The Summoning 4:12
6. Seafarer 3:20
7. Silenced by the Northern Winds 6:53
8. In Shadow We Ride 4:47
9. Huntsman 5:23
10. The Wolf’s Head 3:39
11. Into the Depths 6:25
12. The Chosen End 4:31

Band members
Draug – vocals, lead guitar
Varrik – guitar
Alvadar – bass, backing vocals
Exura – keyboards
Umbriel – violin
Valthrun – drums

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