Following the Starlight

Anmeldt av Jens Nepper
(Epictural Productions, 2018)

Karakter: 4/6

Heimsgard cover.jpgEven though the name of the band may evoke a certain Nordic or Scandinavian aura, Heimsgard is indeed a French outfit who released its debut album back in 2015. Mastermind Raido and his cohorts perform epic pagan black metal with a strong emphasis on sweeping melodies, grandiose atmospheres, fantasy-like vibes, and melancholy. The thirteen compositions that constitute this sophomore effort of theirs entitled "Following the Starlight" are all cleverly written, highly disciplined, and impressively structured pieces that lend themselves well to the imagination due to their otherworldly mood.

Embarking on this one-hour musical journey is somewhat akin to a long walk through cold and windswept woods with glorious mountains looming on the horizon. In other words, everything about "Following the Starlight" is simply put majestic. There is no other word for it. Muscular tracks such as "I Was Born Under a Wandering Star", "Nocturnal Alleviation", "The Glowing Guide", and "The Seven Seas Odyssey" conjure up visions of fantastic and otherworldly realms far beyond the greedy grasp of man. Pretty cool, eh? Heavenly female vocals sneak into the mix and provide the album with diversity and beauty, which is perfectly exemplified by "Whisper for the Sky" and "Aurora". Acoustic guitars and flute also creep into Heimsgard's ethereal soundscape and as with the aforementioned female vocals, they add variety to the proceedings without sounding utterly cheesy and clichéd, so no problems there. Even the guitar leads are so easily accessible and memorable that one can hum along to them, which is great. Some of the folky elements that are present on the disc as well as its somewhat pastoral feel bring to mind Taake's brilliant "Hordalands Doedskvaed" opus at times while some of the melodies and the way in which the tunes are arranged remind me of Summoning. Speaking of Summoning, some of Heimsgard's melodies actually evoke a Tolkien-esque atmosphere, but whether that is intentional or not I cannot say. Parallels to the excellent Kampfar can also be made. Either way, there is a sense of wonder and mystery to "Following the Starlight" that is both appealing and charming.

While the musicianship is competent and the production solid, certain parts and sections lack a truly bombastic feel and sound a little flat and devoid of punch at times, almost as if Heimsgard are holding something back. Also, I do wish that the black metal rasps had been a bit more exciting and convincing as they come across as slightly one-dimensional. On top of that, the album lacks originality and an identity of its own, which is to say that you have heard all of this (or at least something quite similar) many times before, but something tells me that what we are witnessing here are merely the beginnings of what Heimsgard could potentially turn into sometime down the road. Despite these flaws, "Following the Starlight" is an enjoyable affair that serves as a most decent soundtrack to wintry nights in front of the fireplace or as a musical accompaniment when out walking in the forest. Definitely worth checking out if you are on the lookout pagan black metal that is grand in scope, highly melodic, and rich on emotion and atmosphere.

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