I can tell you a lot about dairy. For instance, it takes twelve whole pounds of milk to produce a gallon of ice cream. Also, each and every one of America’s states has at least fifty dairy farms in it. Who woulda known? And get this: the natural yellow colour of butter comes from the beta-carotene found in the grass consumed by cows. Holy shit! But why, you might be wondering, am I bringing this up in my review for Canadian folk metal band Hexenklad’s debut album Spirit of the Stone? That’s easy. I want to make it absolutely clear that this album is not for the lactose-intolerant.
When I think ‘folk metal,’ I think of the beautiful melodies of Wildreun, the melancholy of Agalloch, the old-world bleakness of Grift, and the heartwarming passion displayed by Saor and Panopticon. What I don’t, or rather, would prefer not to think about are fully grown men prancing in the forest dressed up as extras from a high school production of Lord of the Rings. My first impression of Hexenklad came from this tantalizing-yet-misleading blurb on their Bandcamp page:” What would happen if you mixed the depth of feeling of Falkenbach with the writing stylings of Hypocrisy, the folk melodies of Moonsorrow with the twin guitar blast of Dissection, the depth of emotion of Primordial with the overwhelming nature of Insomnium? Then you would begin to be able to describe the sound of Hexenklad’s new album Spirit of the Stone.” Hoh boy. It was that little blurb that initially convinced me to pick the album up in the first place, and while there are a couple occasions where some light Insomnium-esque riffing rears its head, the best comparison would be to Hexenclad’s fellow countrymen in Thrawsunblat.
However, where Thrawsunblat’s music possesses an abundance of easily recognized passion, Hexenklad come off as a cheesy stereotype. If there was some sort of magical checklist of every folk metal trope, Hexenklad would tick off each of the boxes. Cello? Sure, we have cello! Gruff gang-shouted choruses? Hell yeah we’ve got some of those! Spoken word segments? Oh, you betcha! Wind instruments? Lord of the Rings had some of those I think, throw em in! This is where the main problem is. These elements are not incorporated with any sense of nuance or self awareness. There’s a fine line between charming folk metal and a terminally cheesy soundtrack to a rambunctious evening of Dungeons and Dragons, and unfortunately for Hexenklad, I’m no board game enthusiast.
Another one of Spirit of the Stone‘s fatal flaws comes from the riffs. Most tracks go by with only servicable riffs to stand on. Sometimes they’ll crank out a riff that sounds like it could be lifted from Above the Weeping World-era Insomnium, but then they quickly revert back to the generic buzz that dominates most of the album. The majority of the songs trundle by with no real hooks or replay-worthy moments, and what few solos there are on the album all feel restrained and muffled, never making me feel more excited about the track it resides in.
I might sound like I’m being overly harsh. But understand this: I live and breathe folk metal, and I hear faint traces of promise in Hexenklad. If they cleaned up their sound and showed a bit more restraint in their incorporation of the folk elements, they could have a winning formula on their hands. Like I said, every once in a while they’ll wheel out a riff that’s a proper rager. The vocals are gruff and expressive, which is always good, and at times they do come close to reaching the lofty highs promised in their promo blurb.
That being said, I can only rate what’s on the album, not the potential they have for a follow-up, so I give this album a C-. That being said, I’m rooting for Hexenklad next time. Maybe reviews like this are the tough love the band needs in order to put out a truly great album. Only time will tell. For now, If you’re interested in listening to Spirit of the Stone for yourself, you can find it at the band’s Bandcamp page.