When asked to name locales of great folk metal bands, Finland, Russia, and Norway top most people’s lists. What if I told you there was a hidden gem hailing from the typically mundane state of Ohio in the USA? Cincinnati may not be home to typically harsh climates, but it is home to Winterhymn.
I first came across the sextet when they were one of the local openers for the Paganfest USA III show in 2012. While that tour featured Turisas, Arkona, and Alestorm, it was Winterhymn that caught my ear that night, playing songs from their first LP, Songs For the Slain. When I found out they were from my old stomping grounds a mere ninety minutes away, that was a bigger bonus.
Since 2012, the band shuffled nearly half of its members and had only put out a single and an EP in four years. Finally, 2016 sees the Midwest Minstrels return with a label and a second LP, Blood & Shadow.
If you’re new to Winterhymn, think a hybrid of Wilderun and Ensiferum with some Finnish power metal undertones. Dueling clean and harsh vocals, courtesy of Draug and Alvadar, respectively, add interest to each song, and Umbriel’s violin permeates the entire album, cementing the folk aesthetic. Keyboards (courtesy of Exura) are present but provide more of a supporting role rather than turning everything into a video game soundtrack. Draug, Varrik, and Alvadar alternate among galloping, driving, and soaring riffs, adding significant dimension to what could otherwise be a stale affair. Valthrun is a talented drummer, providing strong double-kicks when necessary, but always supporting the song without stomping all over it.
Opener (and featured track) Blood of the Moon sets the tone for the album. The song starts with a mostly galloping rhythm with the violin dancing in the background, but transitions over to a harsher sound on the back half. Blood Burner lives up to its name with an aggressive, yet catchy, tempo. Other favorites include the soaring Legacy In Flames, the near-acoustic Seafarer, and closer The Chosen End.
Any negatives I have about this album are mostly nitpicking. If you’ve listened to a lot of folk metal, then you’re going to pick out a lot of derivative elements from Winterhymn’s influences. Again, this is a relatively young band, so that’s to be expected. Likewise, three of the tracks you may have heard before on their Paganfest V Sampler EP.
While the limited hills and relatively mild winters of Cincinnati pale in comparison to the Scandinavian or Eastern European mountain ranges, Winterhymn manage to feel authentic, and Blood & Shadow is a strong second album for the band. This is easily one of my favorite folk metal albums to come out this year, so click on the Bandcamp link below and give Blood & Shadow a listen.