Released: 2009, Black Bards Entertainment
Folk/Viking metal is a cyclical genre, rising and falling like the tides, wearing out its welcome with its lack of variety and predictability, only to re-emerge with a new wave of bands and fresh hordes to convert. Enter Heathen Foray, a band from Austria waving the banner of folk metal proudly on their debut album THE PASSAGE, while eliminating any traces of flutes, violins, or keyboards for that matter. So how does this album manage to be folk metal, while lacking the above mentioned instruments? Mostly, this is accomplished through the deft use of melodic and speedy riffs, combined with the lyrical themes of folk/Viking metal.
Album opener “Fading Tree” introduces Heathen Foray’s brand of metal, instantly offering a catchy melodic riff, pummeling percussions, and a perplexing blend of death metal, power metal, and folk. This template continues through the entire album, sadly never matching the high caliber standard of “Fading Tree”. Chief issue here is that while there is an undeniable folk element, musically this album leans far more towards power metal and consequently, to my ears, calls for a power metal style of vocals. Instead, singer Robert Schroll delivers a style that combines black metal and death metal vocals, discernible but out of place. Perhaps a telling clue can be found in the band’s MySpace bio, where they do not even know how to describe their sound. I have no problem with this. I think too often people try to categorize things into neat boxes that do not fit and often convey a misguided impression of something’s true nature, particularly with music. However, the straddling of these styles does not always lean towards consistency, and unfortunately the album is not as varied as one would think using these combinations.
Credit has to be given though to the awesome and frequently addictive passages on the album, particularly the inspiring guitar work, as well as the production. Similarly, moving away from traditional folk metal instrumentation helps this sound like a more original and invigorating effort. Unfortunately, there is a perceptible drop in the quality of the songs after the opener, and despite the tight and accomplished musicianship, fails to leave a lasting impression. However, the real challenge with this album for you, the listener, is whether the vocals will be a clarion call to chug a horn of mead and raise your battle sword or shake your head and lament how much cooler this album would have been with a different vocal style.