Pagan and folk metal have seen a bit of a resurgence in recent years thanks to a number of bands in the genre touring around North America, but beyond the major label acts there are still plenty of worthy underground ones for fans who want to dive deeper. XIV Dark Centuries is a great example, as the German group has been around since 1998 and may have slipped under the radar for quite a few people, in part because each of their albums have come after lengthy gaps. This year’s Waldvolk, their fourth full-length overall, comes nearly nine years after its predecessor but it’s clear from the strength of the writing and the polish of the recording that this time has been well spent.
There have been a few lineup changes since 2011’s Gizit dar Faida, as XIV Dark Centuries has been joined by a new guitarist and drummer alongside one of their previous guitarists, bringing some old and new blood to the fold. It’s clearly worked to their advantage, as while Waldvolk pulls from a lot of familiar elements it’s often pulling from the best versions of them and no matter where the band heads there’s a catchy lead or chorus to hold your attention. Pagan metal can refer to a lot of different styles, but the riffing here falls somewhere between melodic black/ death metal, folk metal, and straight-up heavy metal. XIV Dark Centuries has an energy that’s simply infectious, as the faster tempos and soaring melodies feel like they’re pumping you up to go to battle while the softer folk interludes give a brief period of calm after the storm. There’s something about this album that comes off as fun, as though these guys could go all Braveheart on you one moment and then have a drinking contest the next. Where a lot of groups of this type run out of ideas halfway through and come across feeling repetitive, Waldvolk has consistent hooks and even when they tread similar territory there are riffs that help keep each song distinguishable from the last. The forty-five-minute run time flies by and will keep you wanting to come back for more, and the strong writing is also bolstered by production values that make each melody feel truly epic in scale.
Michel has been the group’s singer since the very beginning, and he has an impressive amount of range that covers both clean and harsh pitches. Quite often he’ll start off with a raspier scream before heading into lower growls and somber singing, all without any awkward transitions or loss of intensity. What sold me on this album was how well done the singing was, as your average folk or pagan metal band can easily pull off screams and growls but few have vocalists who can sing decently. It’s delivered convincingly here and makes a lot of the material feel more dynamic, which makes XIV Dark Centuries much more exciting to listen to than many of their peers.
They may only have four albums and a few shorter releases to their name after two decades, but XIV Dark Centuries has focused on quality over quantity and their latest release is a perfect example. It may not be reinventing anything in the pagan/folk metal spectrum, but when the hooks are this strong and the album consistently pulls you back time and time again there’s no reason to complain about a little familiarity. Crank this one up and let these guys channel your warrior spirit and send you off to battle, as this is how to do this particular metal sub-genre right. Waldwolk is available from Einheit Produktionen.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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