certainly isn’t your normal black metal album, that is apparent before you even insert the CD into your computer. If you can acquire one of the 900 copies of this originally pressed, you will see an album cover with a cave-drawing of what appears to be a man and an animal of some sort, standing on the ground underneath what could be either the sun or the moon. Underneath this drawing is the word Heathen
spelled out in runes, which are all too common to black metal albums. On the reverse side, the same glyphs spell out the album’s sole track “Heathen”, and underneath this is the running time of 51 minutes, 16 seconds. So, before this is even taken out of its case, you already know something is different about this album. It is different in every sense of the word, different even from Wyrd’s proceeding albums, nothing before or since has really sounded like what is recorded on Heathen
During this album, the music is divided into two distinct sections, which take turns alternating. On one hand, we have the pretty harsh black metal laced with chanting vocals which partition the heavily layered screams. On the other hand, there is a sense of ambient carved into the music, with a length of time which can be measured in tens of minutes going without vocals in the middle of the album, letting the album be carried by the soothing acoustic guitar which plays different variations of a single, central riff. It’s in this sense of dividing the album between moments of anger and peace, so to speak, that the songwriting begins to show it’s teeth. Tomi Kalliola manages to make this album revolve around a single riff, which appears within the first few seconds and carries, in one form or another, all the way until the very end. The lyrics read like an epic poem, the actual album sounds like someone is telling you a story from ages ago, especially around the 16:30 mark, where thunder and rain take over the instruments, and Kalliola talks over these effects, telling a story of returning from battle. It’s pretty epic stuff if you take the time to actually read the lyrics, which I highly recommend doing.
Earlier, I mentioned how the flaws in instrumental performance are greatly overshadowed by the astounding songwriting. Well, while the flaws in the instruments aren’t terribly apparent, what is apparent is the simplicity in all of the riffs and chords. Don’t come into this album expecting overly technical guitar work, because that is simply nowhere to be found. The guitars are oppressive and crunchy, over-produced to sound this way. That doesn’t take away the fact that Heathen
contains an immense amount of melody and rhythm, which stem from every corner of the musical spectrum. The electric guitars contribute, the acoustic guitar certainly contributes, the bass contributes, and the variety of folk instruments also adds to this sense of ebb and flow which somehow manages to remain fresh throughout the entire album, despite its minimal variances from the original tempo. All of this backs the impressive vocal performance, especially the screams. The screaming contained here is definitely unique, being downright evil, raspy, and low. It is obviously heavily distorted and layered, but that is something which I certainly don’t mind, especially when the end product is this good and fits the music as well as the vocals here do.
Along with your usual assortment of black metal touches, the pagan/folk side of this album reigns up there right next to the black metal side. The clean vocals are used generously, and while they aren’t the greatest I’ve heard, they work strangely well with the unpolished nature of this album. They aren’t as goofy as, say, Bathory’s were in such albums as Hammerheart
or Twilight Of The Gods
, but they sort of have the same air about them, one of epic battles and Vikings and whatnot. They usually appear during the black metal sections of the album, in between the screeching of the screamed vocals, and don’t tread in the instrumental portions of the album. The instrumental parts, such as the large chunk which makes up the middle/end of the album, is absolutely entrancing in the way it simply does not let go, like many other ambient sections I’ve heard before. The riffs change slowly but surely, going from the serene acoustic lick at about 28:00 to the melancholic line at about 29:00, to the darker, faster acoustic riff at 30:00. Things change minimally, but change they do indeed. It’s never a drastic riff change which leaves you hanging, wondering how the hell the transition happened, Heathen
instead slowly changes small aspects of each riff, eventually leading to something completely different than what you started with. It’s a very difficult thing to explain, especially in regards to this album, it can only be heard to really be appreciated.
It is not an easy feat to keep a listener entertained for just nigh an hour, but Wyrd does a simply astounding job in doing just that, keeping you fully enthralled in a song which takes up, in today’s society, a considerable amount of time. It is pagan black metal at its finest, both dark and epic at the same time. It is, in my personal sense, a masterpiece in every sense and meaning of the word, an album of such astounding proportions that it simply cannot, and will not, be replicated again by anyone, even Tomi Kalliola himself. This is the kind of album that a band will write once, and only once, in their career. Heathen
is this such album for Wyrd, a piece of music which goes beyond the realm of description and meaning, and just simply needs to be heard by all fans of black metal. An excellent listen for those who want something which they can’t put their finger on, because I’m sure throughout Heathen’s
run time, whatever you are looking for will be there.