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Singing Praise to Ancient Times - 95%

The_Bear, September 7th, 2008

Beginning in 1993, and releasing their first demo in 1995, Bergthron have been a longstanding force in the German metal scene. Throughout their career they have progressed considerably from the primitive, synth-laden black metal that made up Durch den Nebel der Finsternis. Their first full-length, Jagdheim, can be seen as the midpoint of their career so far, being a recognisable step from their demo recordings, but with greater technical proficiency, less synthesiser use, and more frequent use of clean vocals. This stylistic blend is very successful in conjuring up the atmosphere and imagery that Bergthron is all about (nature, ancient times, etc—nothing out of the ordinary) and is my favourite of their releases.

Clocking it at 35:29, Jagdheim is made up of three lengthy songs: Aus edlem Blut (Of Noble Blood), Im weißen Wald (In the White Forest), and the title track, Jagdheim (Hunting Home). The specific style of metal played throughout these songs is hard to classify. Aus edlem Blut begins with your standard black metal, complete with blasting drums, tremolo picked guitars and competently shrieked vocals; however, even though there are some similar sections throughout the album, this is not the style of music that is present for a lot of the time. What we do get treated to for the most part is some mid-paced metal with clean, chanted vocals and guitar work that while fairly light on the distortion is still somewhat rooted in the realms of black metal. A synthesiser with a nice ‘floaty’ sound is also used occasionally through the album. It only plays simple parts, often in the background as a mainly atmospheric device, but it still has a nice timbre that adds to the songs while remaining tasteful. I wouldn’t exactly call any of the instrumental work on Jagdheim overtly folky—although there are some moments that bear somewhat of a folk influence—but combined with the clean vocals, the atmosphere created is similar to more folk-influenced bands such as Falkenbach. However, the way that they achieve this atmosphere is still different to any bands that they may draw comparison to, and I therefore think it’s safe to label Jagdheim as a fairly unique recording.

Now I mentioned that the guitar work is rooted in black metal, but there’s more to it than just that. While a lot of the riffs would fit in nicely into a standard black metal band if there was more distortion and a different production, there are also some that would stick out like a sore thumb. These rogue riffs vary in themselves; some are fairly melodic, and seem to take influence from more traditional forms of metal, while there are others that would seem just as much at home in a rock setting. And as odd as it may seem, this combination actually works really well. The riffs complement each other nicely and provide plenty of variation for the listener, while flowing well from one to the next

The album as a whole flows very well too, with the end of each song joining onto the beginning of the next, creating a fluid listening experience that can only be properly appreciated by experiencing the album in its entirety. That is not to say that the songs are overly similar to each other though; while being stylistically similar, each track is full of its own catchy guitar riffs, drum patterns, bass lines and vocal chants that will remain in your head long after the album draws to a close. The songs don’t get boring at all either, which can sometimes be a problem for bands with such lengthy songs. There isn’t a noticeable pattern to the songs as they play out, but there are themes and sections that are repeated in each song. There aren’t any drastic tempo changes between these sections, but the songs often increase or drop away intensity as they progress to avoid any particular section sounding too much like another. Bergthron seem to know just the right time to move between sections as well. They’ll be grooving along to one of the many great riffs that are littered across the album and then a drum fill, bass break or some other small transitional technique will come along and move the song smoothly onwards. It really is all about the flow.

Something else that contributes greatly to the smoothness that Jagdheim flows by with is the general laid-back feel that is present throughout the majority of the album. There are some more intense moments in some of the songs, such as the aforementioned savage way that Aus edlem Blut beings, but for the most part, Jagdheim is a mid-paced affair that is actually quite a relaxing listen. The vocal work is a large contributor to this laid-back feel. Apart from the few times when harsh vocals are used, it is proud clean vocals, often chant-like, that grace the listener’s ears. To get an idea of the sound, picture a group of hunters, content and settled around a campfire after a day’s ride through the forest, all joined in song, praising the gods above for the fine meat that they’re feasting upon. Their voices are strong and powerful, yet any harshness has been mellowed by the meal’s accompanying drink. The leader of these hunters would be Bergthron’s frontman, and as his commanding voice sings along almost effortlessly, anyone within listening range is lead on a journey to the past.

Behind these glorious vocals, all of the instruments work together exceptionally as the songs play out. It’s not often that the focus is only on a single instrument, and there aren’t really any moments of brilliance from any individual band member, but the combination of each individual part is just as satisfying as a good guitar solo can be. This is helped along a lot by the production. It is by no means a modern studio production, but all the instruments are captured cleanly and have a good strong sound while still retaining the natural feel that is often lost when bands tread the fine line of overproduction. Everything is mixed well too; it all sits nicely without anything being too loud or verging on inaudibility. Simply put, it is the perfect production for this sort of music. It is also worth giving special mention to the mix of the bass, which is a lot more prominent than it would be in a lot metal recordings. This is important as the bass plays a big role in Jagdheim. It mimics the guitar for some of the time, but it also spends a lot of time off on its own, either drifting off at the end of a phrase or for longer periods where it plays its own part. This is a nice touch, and it’s surprising how much the bass playing really adds to the album at times. As I said before though, the way that all the instruments work together is what really makes Jagdheim so good. An important factor in this is that the whole band’s performance is extremely tight throughout the entire album. It is obvious that they came into the recording well-rehearsed.

The drumming is well-performed and is one of the reasons that there is such tightness. Like the rest of the instruments, it’s not overly complex—it even sounds quite poppy at times—but the drummer never lingers on the same pattern for too long and provides plenty of variety with his fills. He keeps time immaculately, and there is a driving and upbeat quality that is present in the drumming more than the other instruments. At times this adds a happy, almost uplifting feel to the album that wouldn’t be present otherwise, and is another reason why Jagdheim flow so well, even if the drumming style isn’t one you would normally associate with metal.

Overall it’s hard to fault Jagdheim at all. It flows just as well as any other album I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, and it achieves everything that it should perfectly while leaving a satisfying feeling that holds up to repeat listens. You have probably realised by now whether the style of this album is something that you generally don’t like, and I doubt that listening to Jagdheim will suddenly make you change your listening habits. However, if you haven’t had that reaction, do yourself a favour and give Jagdheim a few listens to see if you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.