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Waldtraene – “Unter Wolfes Banner” Review

German tavern shanties to raise a flag to

Pagan Folk is a genre that has a mini craze in Germany and little fanfare outside of the country but I am a massive fan of the merging of folk music and old historic instruments. Waldtraene’s 5th album “Unter Wolfes Banner” came out at the end of 2016 and is a mixture of voices, personalities and styles. It makes for an inconsistent but exploratory album that grows on you each listen.

“Irrilicht” opens with a gentle acoustic guitar melody and both Horda and Knoepfchen singing away. The two singers have completely different styles and whilst the female voice is serene and angelic, the male sounds like he desperate to burst into a bellowing beer fest. His voice works less well in the gentler tracks when he is on his own but his gruffness works really well the two combine to sing together. This pirate shanty / pub folk style works an absolute treat with the title track. It’s warm, patriotic and full-blooded. “Ulfhednar” feels like it’s a song for Dwarves and Middle Earth at times with its chants and shouts between strong verses whilst “Ziu” carries more sentimentality with some lovely flute work.

Between many tracks are more scene setting monologues or drama pieces with log fires spitting and crackling behind the words. I don’t speak German so I’ve no idea what they are saying but the quality of recorded voice changes for these pieces and they sound less polished. Waldtraene work at their best when they are jamming it out. Tracks such as “Urzeit” and “Mittwinternacht” really shine and showcase their raw talents. It also makes me yearn for someone to dive in with a tabla or conga drum and smash the thing to bits to just add that little extra burst of energy for the final parts of some songs. This is because they are so keen to burst into song loudly at the first chorus, there’s nowhere to improve and explode further for the future choruses.

Pagan Folk can be divided into many segments and I place this into tavern and pirate rock. It’s minimal delivery is both a strength and a weakness. It’s admirable but it also sometimes makes the songs merge into one long grog swilling shanty. Give it a chance though, because when you take the songs individually on their own, they really do improve to stand on their own two feet.

Recommended track : Mittwinternacht

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