Romuvos- Spirits (Album Review)

Feb. 13, 2024


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Romuvos has come a long way over the past decade, as the Lithuanian folk metal band has not only honed their songwriting over three full-length albums but 2020’s The Baltic Crusade saw them expanding to a full lineup after being a one-man operation for much of their existence.  That album took the epic folk and heavy metal foundation of the first two releases and made some significant strides forward, providing more powerful and confident sounding vocals alongside plenty of standout riffs.  It was the type of release that felt like the culmination of everything founder Velnias had been striving towards since the beginning, and with that in mind it makes sense that Spirits adopts a different approach than its predecessor.  There is still plenty of powerful, heavy instrumentation, but the sound has pivoted towards darker, mysterious folk melodies that bring bands like Wardruna and Heilung to mind just as much as classic Bathory.  It’s a direction that works well for Romuvos, and with plenty of strong hooks to back up the shift in style Spirits is likely to stick with listeners for some time to come.

If you listened to Romuvos’ prior three full lengths or saw this tagged as epic pagan or folk metal, you might be expecting the heavy and soaring instrumentation to kick in right from the beginning.  But opener “Snake Dance” makes it clear that you’re in for a slightly different experience with this effort, as it spends its first few minutes building up a dark and mysterious atmosphere through tribal sounding rhythms and subdued melodies.  It’s this approach that gives off hints of darker folk similar to Heilung or Warduna, and Romuvos delivers it in convincing fashion with a strong rhythmic foundation and songwriting that builds from whispers to big, booming peaks.  “Sun and the Morning Star” feels like the first real crossover of old and new styles from the group, as the first half is focused on darker acoustic guitar melodies and a driving rhythm, but it transitions over to a much louder and powerful guitar lead that brings the metal back into the spotlight.  This approach works well and gives Romuvos a slightly different sound than some of their peers, as they straddle the line between full-on folk and the metal side of the spectrum in ways that aren’t quite as predictable.  The group still tends to favor mid-tempo gallops and methodical build-ups when it comes to the metal compositions, but they do shake things up enough from one song to the next to keep you interested.  Tracks like “World Tree”, “Become as One”, and “Spirits of the Oak” showcase Romuvos at their best, but the material is consistently strong from beginning to end.  It also helps that Spirits is very compact compared to The Baltic Crusade at just forty-one minutes, and it not only keeps things moving but avoids the repetition and overstretched ideas that can sometimes plague folk metal.  Spirits also boasts strong production values that allow the subtle details of the softer folk passages to stick out while also giving some real weight to the metal ones, which makes a big difference.

My first exposure to this band was 2014’s Romuvan Dainas, and I have to admit that at that early stage the vocals were fairly rough around the edges and lacked some of the power needed to match the instrumentation.  Velnias has come a long way since then, and Spirits showcases additional elements that take the foundation laid by The Baltic Crusade and bumps them up another notch.  This is another area where Romuvos has a bit more of a unique flair, as the singing initially has a much softer and beautiful tone to it but brings in a much gruffer and aggressive approach when needed.  “Snake Dance” uses distorted pitches that remind me of some of the Mongolian folk metal bands that have become prominent over the past decade, but there are also chants and more powerful singing towards the end that bring things back to that Bathory foundation.  This mix of subdued and powerful singing is also showcased on songs like “World Tree”, which move from softer chants to anthemic peaks that have just a slightly harsher edge to them.  Romuvos gives listeners just as many details to uncover in the vocal performance, and it’s clear that with each album they’ve refined their singing and only gotten better.

Prior Romuvos material certainly caught my attention, but there was always an element that held it back slightly, whether that be rough around the edges vocals or slightly inflated album lengths.  Spirits improves upon what worked before, injects some darker melodies and even more folk into the mix, and trims the fat.  It’s an approach that pays off and gives them a sound that will appeal just as much to non-metalheads that enjoy stuff like Heilung as those that are looking for epically inclined folk metal.  There are a few similar sounding tracks, but the amount of sections that stand out upon repeat listens makes up for it and has kept me wanting to dive into this album regularly.  Folk metal is one of those genres where it can be difficult for a band to not fall into repetition over the course of an album as well as have unique qualities that help them stand out, but Romuvos has conquered both those challenges here.  Spirits is available from Hammerheart Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg