The CD release of Heidenblut by German duo Waldtraene makes a strong first impression — its packaging a slick yet earthy homage to nature and Germanic lore. Though a jewel case (which, let’s face it, is an uninspiring package in these days of digibooks and A5 digipaks — though still the only affordable option for many labels and self-releasing artists), care has been taken to express a very specific aesthetic. Strong Heathen themes and moody photos adorn the booklet, accompanying the (German) lyrics for this, the sophomore album from Waldtraene.
However, the depth of atmosphere portrayed in the artwork may just be this album’s most notable shortcoming; the music itself reflects less of that same depth and atmosphere, but — and I can’t stress this enough — this does not mean to say the music isn’t good. It is! In fact, I find myself connecting with the songs more and more with each listen of the album. Besides, it is a matter of perspective as to whether an album’s art should reflect its musical content; the two can be deliberately conflicting in tone.
The compositions are simple, formulaic and spacious. Again, these words — “simple“, “formulaic” — sound very negative, but I don’t use them with that intention at all. There is much to be said, in this era of richly-textured Neo-Folk, for an act like Waldtraene who dispense with the plethora of unnecessary instrumentation and offer a stripped-down interpretation of pagan folk music. “Simple” thus becomes rather a complimentary descriptive.
The formula“here is: the baritone male vocals of Horda, accompanied by his acoustic guitar, and the mezzo-soprano female vocals of Knoepfchen, accompanied by her recorder. I don’t read German confidently so I was unable to glean further information from the CD credits. These instruments are backed only by the occasional nature or mythological sound sample — no percussion, no keyboards, no bass. The format is simple, effective, and probably quite intentional. It no doubt gives this act an advantage when performing live and writing. These are songs which are formed around fairly straight-forward traditional folk structures — the guitar carrying everything along, the contrasting vocals harmonising one another, and the recorder separating one vocal section from another whilst continuing the overall theme of the song. There is no progressive element to the song-writing — rather, these are heroic, well-produced and boldly performed songs for the campfire, the moot, the Heathen Rite. The title track stands out very much as an anthem which I suspect might come to define Waldtraene.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit that I’ve never particularly liked some of the more prominent Neo-Folk names who came to define the genre — Death In June and Sol Invictus being a couple of the well-known examples. Many acts for me are simple and formulaic in a way which I find mundane. Waldtraene is simple and formulaic but in a way which I find endearing. I can’t help asking myself the question: Would I like this as much if I didn’t know it was Heathen-themed? I’d like to think so.
04) Vom Vater zum Sohn
06) Hexen vom Brocken
07) Frau Perchta
10) Feinde in Waffen