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Love and dedication can be an extremely useful catalyst when applied to the right mediums. Pouring one's entire heart into a project usually yields much better results than just going through the motions. There will be always be things to take into account, such as talent and the like, but that's a discussion for another day. Paganland, a Ukrainian act with a slightly rocky history, heralds their first full length, “Wind of Freedom” as the collective members' tribute to their native land, language, legends and history.
Ukrainian isn't even close to my native language, but I can feel the Slavic pride dripping from each vocal line, even if I only have a vague sense of what the songs are about. And before you start, this is not an NS band, it's just a band who is very much proud of their heritage, in a non-racist, non-supremacist type way. The Slavic sounding keyboard passages and decidedly Eastern European feel of this album really help to show the band connected with these elements as well.
Calling Paganland a “pagan black metal” band is very misleading. There are elements of black metal and pagan Metal, yes, but there are also folk, doom and traditional inspirations at play as well. Much like Russian act Butterfly Temple, these Ukrainian metallers seem to be at ease sorting through influences, while keeping a fairly consistent delivery that you can clearly say is their own. Take the vocals as an example. While most of the vocals are delivered in a gruff style that lies somewhere between a deep shout and a growl, there are exceptional clean lines in abundance. The clean lines sound very much like a Ukrainian version of Vintersorg: a clean mid-range tone, with smooth, high inflections. If you can imagine Vintersorg singing along to a Cossack dance, then you have a pretty good idea of what it sounds like. Volodymyr's ability to change from a growl to an epic clean passage on a dime is impressive.
The keyboards are very prominent on “Wind of Freedom”. I can't help but liken it to Dun Buk's keyboard lines on “Idu Na Wy!”, especially “Slava Ukraini”. The passages have a very Slavic feel to them, sounding like flute lines and orchestral strings. Even when things get extremely heavy, the keys are still plinking away in the background, keeping the link alive with their heritage. While the music (read: mainly the guitars and drums) have a distinctive Eastern European feel, the production is much cleaner and the use of prominent orchestration and keyboard passages, Paganland create a much more easily digestible chunk of Slavic metal.
Inside you'll find chunky distorted riffing played alongside inventive double kick patterns build into double bass runs with selective chord progressions, all the while the keyboards belt out Slavic-tinged melodies. The riffs are entertaining, but it's nothing that will redesign the wheel. The mid pace riffing and drumming provide an excellent backdrop to the Ukrainian melodies and storytelling. The band is at its best when the drums and guitars are chugging away with an airy melodic keyboard line filling in the blanks. The vocals are just some icing on the cake.
If you want to try out some so-called “Pagan Metal”, this would be a good place to start. By utilizing overarching keyboard melodies and recording the album in a proper studio (instead of a bathroom), Paganland has created one of the most digestible pagan metal albums in quite some time. While not the most inventive or original album, “Wind of Freedom” showcases the band's love for all things Slavic and Ukrainian, and it's a move that works quite well. This should sit well with fans of Butterfly Temple and Finsterforst.
Written for The Metal Observer: