Blending metal with folky and medieval elements are almost as old as the metal genre itself, from the very giants of the Heavy Metal genre, including Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, to the more niche-based connoisseurs of such acts as Skyclad. Later on, when Black Metal started to get more creative during the mid-90’s, a lot of bands started to throw in lots of folk and medieval music to their musical ideas. More often then not these influences were drawn from the historical back grounds of the countries they came from. The most obvious examples are, of course, the Norwegian bands that blended the country’s ancient Viking roots to their music. But besides bands like Enslaved and Thyrfing, there were more bands that went digging in their collective historical ancestries.
When it comes to medieval music added to Black Metal, that arguably reached its ultimate peak with Haggard’s ‘Awaking The Centuries’ from 2000. An album that was recorded by no less then 36 musicians and blended classical music and medieval folk to a grand and epic sound that has never been surpassed since. But, below those monstrous projects, things were equally interesting. Especially the country of France seemed to have an interesting musical scene for creative use of those folk and medieval elements in metal. The Holy Records label had a strong influence of the development of this style of music, not only releasing a string of interesting bands from that particular scene, but also running a very good distro of intriguing music that would go beyond your average Gorgoroth and Marduk titles.
The French musical scene as a whole has always been very receptive for Folk music to begin with, this might be traced back to the French strong national identity, very often mistaken as chauvinism. It can be traced back for centuries, but got particularly popularized at the thriving 60’s and 70’s in which musicians like Alan Stivell and groups like Malicorne brought the harp and psaltery back into fashion. Together with the British Folk scene, which, coincidently or not, exploded at the very same time, the many French (Britanny) and (southern) English Folk festivals marked the very zeitgeist of that era.
It is on that foundation that Véhémence built their Folk induced Black Metal. A very well-balanced mix of rather sharp-edged Black Metal with the use of psaltery, flutes, hurdy gurdy, strings, acoustic guitars and a wide range of epic singing that echoes that distinct medieval ambiance. Though many bands in this particular genre tend to find it difficult to look for the right equilibrium between sounding “metal enough” and all their wild and creative ideas that all these instruments bring, that is not much the case with Véhémence. Instead, they seem to perform that balancing act without apparent difficulty, in which they effortlessly combine their blazing blast beats with the nitty-gritty of their rich native roots.
The album’s length, clocking well over the 50-minute mark, is the only remark that can be made on ‘Ordalies’. While the music has more than enough variety to keep the listener on focus, it tends to be a little much at the end of the ride. It seems that the band has so much to give in terms their creative musicianship, it has a hard time restraining themselves to be a little more concise. Due to the massive variety and prime dynamics it doesn’t wear down, but I can’t shake off the feeling that its length is the result of the band not being able to make clear choices.
Still, ‘Ordalies’ comes down as one of the best albums in recent times when it comes to Medieval/Folk tinged Black Metal. Basically it feels like a joint recording of a very successful collaboration between Soar and Stille Volk, with a distinct use of different flutes and the same sort of Pagan/Celtic atmosphere. The music lends itself well to being picked out by any listener, but regardless of how you listen to it, ‘Ordalies’ is an undeniably well-executed piece of Medieval Black Metal.