Menhir - _Hildebrandslied_
(Trollzorn, 2007)
by: Colleen Burton (7 out of 10)
Menhir, a heavily heathen act from Germany, were a good deal more active in the '90s. _Hildebrandslied_ is their first full-length since 2001, being belatedly released by Trollzorn in 2007 after problems arose with a former label.

Leaping into the beginning of the tale, "Des Alte Liede des Windes" has the uplifting and epic qualities of a heroic ballad, from rhythmic guitar work to the deep and clean vocals (in Old German) bolstered by additional male singers during the chorus. The transition to black metal vocals and drumming patterns is thus abrupt, continuity being maintained mainly through repeating guitar sections. Heiko's voice tends to stick with a listener long after the album is left behind, in part due to his remarkable abilities with normal singing and the extreme nature of black vocals; as he sets some of the earliest works in German to song, one is reminded of the similar efforts of Amorphis. The added speed does not tend to detract from the folk aspects of the arrangement, which serves to convey Menhir's versatility and experimentation. Unlike some albums that require many listenings to more accurately gauge their quality, this simultaneously melodious and harsh composition is immediately pleasing to the ear. The dueling guitar solos at the end of the first track are inviting you into a dream state, striving to conjure up your deepest emotions, reminiscent of Falkenbach's use of pipes and gentler sounds and crystal-clear vocals.

The synthesizer is more overt in "Des Kriegers Gesicht" but never leads itself towards a cheesy or overwhelming tendency. Again, they enjoy shocking you with an instantaneous crossover into blacker metal as the guitars begin to snarl, but Heiko always reverts to his heartfelt minstrel voice. An "Intro" offers one of the few usages of outside instrumentation, laying the groundwork for the two-part "Das Hildebrandslied" which evidences a shift towards poignant violin and filling slower portions with acoustic guitar. Sounds of battle are inserted around Heiko's lamenting voice. Manegarm prefers a more primitive metal; a raw sort of death sound, yet they also dedicated time to the violin or other instruments which can produce a more experimental approach. The production and crisp clarity of the booming voices and unusual instruments is well above reproach. "Dein Ahn" is all furious and black, guitar-driven and never deviating from an epic standpoint.

Obviously, this will resonate better with speakers of German and appreciators of arcane literature, but pagan metal listeners will be interested to learn that it follows the tragic saga of Hildebrand, who must fight his son's army upon his return to his homeland, because the man doesn't recognize him. A careful construction of haunting melodies, _Hildebrandslied_ is absolutely lovely. If anything, the songs may be a bit overly melodic and lengthy for those who stick closely to black invocations of pagan music. Folk appreciators are likely to eat this up, particularly if they have a proclivity towards Heidevolk and Tyr, who also use beautiful vocals to drive forward very melodic songs about mythology and ancient times, straying from the boundaries of metal to produce something altogether new.


(article published 24/3/2009)

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