Menhir - Hildebrandslied

Menhir - Hildebrandslied - 4.5/5

I haven't written a review in a while, so bear with me if I'm a bit rusty.

"Hildebrandslied" is the 4th full-length album of the Thuringan-based, self-proclaimed Pagan Metal band Menhir. After a 6-year absence from the recording-studio the band came back with a bang with this 42 minute masterpiece.

The ablum takes its name from one of the oldest existing German texts. Believed to be the oldest surviving example of a traditional Germanic tale set to text, "Hildebrandslied" ("Lay of the Hildebrand") is one of the most treasured items in German culture. The 1000 year-old text, consisting of only 2 pages, on the back and front of what appears to be religious codex, is also the lyrical content of two of the tracks on the album ("Hildebrandslied - Teil 1" and "Hildebrandslied - Teil 2"). It is a story of a father who returns home after a long journey to find that his son has forgotten him. The end of the text sees the father (Hildebrand) and the son (Hadubrand) and their respective armies facing off.

Together with the unique and touching subject-matter of the album, it also has an outstanding musical content. Menhir manages to blend acoustic folk elements with Black Metal elements in such a way as not sound clumsy, as such fusions often do. Instead it feels flowing and well-structured, never lacking and never superfluous or pretentious. Passages of pure Black Metal fury duly give way for acoustic sequences to take the lead and vice versa. All in all a well-structured and skilfully planned album.

The musicianship is just as pleasing. The druming is brilliantly done, never too noticeable, but never too subtle either, instead providing the music with a rhythmic coherency to build forth on without ever being overbearing. This lays the perfect foundation on which the main features, the guitars, vocals and keyboards can freely work their magic. The vocals, sung entirely in German and Old High German by Heiko Gerull, vary between operatic and enchanting song to outright Black Metal screeches, the latter not being brilliantly done, but solid nonetheless. The keyboards, also never taking centre-stage, provide a beautiful melodic background that manages in enhancing the impact of the album considerably.

The guitars are probably my favourite part of the album musically. Not exceptional, but with a certain virtuosity that gives the album that edge above most Black/Folk Metal projects. The guitarists, Fix (Thomas Ussfeller) on lead and Heiko Gerull on rhythm, consistently succeed in creating beautiful melodies that never cease to entertain, never become overdone or boring. The lead guitarist also plays a few well-executed solos that provide the extra kick that most albums of this genre seem to lack. The addition of violins and other acoustic string and percussion instruments in "Hildebrand - Teil 1" and "Hildebrand -Teil 2", lends a varied feel to the album that makes it that much more enjoyable.

Despite not being especially conceptually original, this is, without a doubt, one of the best Folk/Black Metal albums I've heard so far and I hope we don't have to wait another 6 years for the next release. Thumbs up!

Highlights: Hildebrandslied - Teil 1, Hilderbrandslied - Teil 2, Dein Ahn