The United States, when it comes to metal, is often associated with thrash, death metal, metalcore and the ‘new wave of American metal’. As a result, it is these sorts of bands that fill up the bills of most American metal festivals, leaving many US metal fans yearning for a festival that is similar to that of a European one, which often feature a wider range of genres including power metal, black metal and folk metal.
The latter of these genres has been largely lacking in the US metal scene until lately, where there seems to be a new wave of American folk metal, which is not only bringing more of a Euopean vibe into the American metal scene, but breathing new life into the folk metal genre, lead by bands such as Wilderun, and the feature of this article: Winterhymn.
Winterhymn’s upcoming album ‘Blood & Shadows‘ is due for release on 17th June and is available to pre-order here from SoundAge Productions. It is the first release from the sextet from Cincinnati, OH, since debut album ‘Songs for the Slain‘, which was released all the way back in 2011. Both take much inspiration from traditional old Celtic and Scandinavian folk songs and have a progressive tinge.
Blood & Shadows starts off strong with opening track ‘Blood of the Moon‘ , featuring great use of violin by Umbriel giving the song a classic upbeat folk metal feeling. Combine this with the clean vocals of lead guitarist Draug and you have the main ingredients for their unique style within a genre that could be easy to simply replicate. For a little more variety within the song, there are added symphonic elements from keyboardist Exura and harsh growls from bassist Alvadar.
The upbeat theme is continued into the tracks ‘Dream of Might‘ and ‘Legacy in Flames‘ and has you involuntarily tapping your foot as you can imagine yourself dancing and jigging at one of their concerts. Legacy In Flames features a particularly impressive section filled with Umbriel’s incredible violin playing coupled with brilliant drumming from Valthrun.
‘The Summoning‘ has a slightly darker tone and features heavier guitars, thanks to the riffing from both Draug and Varrik. This leads into a beautifully composed acoustic track entitled ‘Seafarer‘ which breaks up the album nicely and will have you singing along as soon as you know the lyrics. This has a vibe of Ensiferum about it, in their softer moments.
Following this, is ‘In Shadow We Ride‘ which has a sombre feel to it, with a slower tempo and with Draug’s clean vocals really shining through and having a powerful effect on the listener. The song goes to show that as composers, the band are able to create happy and jolly songs on the one hand, whilst crafting beautiful acoustic songs, and darker songs with more feeling on the other.
Unfortunately, however, I feel that this is the point in the album where it slightly begins to lose focus. A lot of the songs begin to blend into one, and mix a little too many genres into individual songs, even dipping a toe into black metal in ‘Huntsman‘ and ‘The Chosen End‘. Traditional song structure is thrown out of the window in favour of a more progressive flavour. This may have worked for one or two songs on the album, but it seems to be the majority of the second half that suffers from this problem. I have found that Blood & Shadows is best enjoyed if you stop listening half-way through and come back later to listen to the second half, which enables you to appreciate the songs more, without them getting lost on the record, and as a result, I now absolutely love the epic ‘Silenced By The Northern Winds‘ as well as the penultimate track ‘Into The Depths‘.
Overall, I admire the ambitious take on the genre, as well as the combination of the band’s image, the logo, the album artwork and the picture that the music paints, creating a soundtrack for drinking mead, partying around a bonfire and telling tales of old. I also give credit to them for not sounding particularly like any other already-existing band, with only Månegarm coming to mind and nods to other bands such as Ensiferum on occasion. It’s great that they have found their own in a somewhat saturated genre. There’s certainly a lot of potential for Winterhymn, and, combined with their debut album, they have songs that I am sure will go down as classics in the folk metal world in years to come, and I look forward to seeing more from this American gem.