The flow chart of heavy metal is packed with various sub-genres that have spawned interesting and innovative bands over the past 15-20 years. Europe has traditionally been the area where the various sub-genre’s take hold.
The sub-genre ‘folk metal’ is no different. Blending traditional instruments with power and death metal, these bands have developed a potent style of music. Of the many folk metal sub-genres, Celtic is the style that Waylander plays, integrating traditional Celtic instruments into their sound. In fact, they are one of the pioneers of the style.
Their latest album is Honour Amongst Chaos, nine often-brutal folk metal songs. The events get underway with “As The Deities Clash,” a slowly building onslaught of metal, carried along by a slightly dissonant drum beat and soaring guitar work. There is an undeniable old school power metal vibe to it, but it’s modern enough not to sound dated.
That’s followed in succession by other standout songs, “Walk with Honour” and “Beyond the Ninth Wave,” which starts with pastoral bagpipes bringing you instantly to the Cliffs of Moher, standing and gazing across the ocean. Then a furious double bass drum kicks in and knocks you off the ledge into the churning seas below.
“Elemental Chaos” is one of the album’s only clunkers. Bad vocals sit on top of uninteresting music. Compared to the rest of the tracks, it stands out for the wrong reasons. “To Dine in the Otherworld” is a proggy epic. At just over 10 minutes the song veers from full speed metal onslaught to intricate instrumental breaks, to the requisite traditional Celtic folk sections. It’s indicative of a band that has perfected their style and is playing at the top of their game.
“Bru Na Boinne” is a perfect example of Celtic folk metal and one of the album’s best songs. A long acoustic intro slides into a traditional Celtic-tinged tune, before it becomes a churning mass of tin whistle and double bass drums, accompanied by an Iron Maiden-ish riff. “Boinne” also is one of the few songs where vocalist ArdChieftain O’ Hagan actually shows his range.
That brings me to the one major criticism with the album. The music is amazing — it’s a perfect combination of power and melody — but the vocals are sometimes so guttural that they distract from the songs. Heavy singing certainly has its place, but I would have liked to have seen diversity in vocal delivery to match the extreme diversity in music.
Another criticism, all too common these days, is the production. There are times when it sounds a little muddled and cloudy, mainly when the band is playing at full volume. But the more drawn out passages and acoustic instrumentation are clear. Maybe a little knob tweaking could have made it slightly better.
Two minor critiques aside, this is really a brutally effective effort. Honour Amongst Chaos stands as one of the better folk metal albums I’ve heard. And Waylander have shown tremendous growth in their musicianship, sometimes overshadowing the vocals to deliver a diverse, accessible, yet heavy album.