An Intimate EpitaphI've previously expressed my admiration for Austria's Dornenreich. Freiheit will not change that, but the specifics are going to have to change.
Flammentriebe was great because it struck a masterful balance between black metal and folk music, while making excellent use of a guitar-playing technique that I've come to identify with Dornenreich above any other band. Freiheit is quite different. It's almost (though not completely) a neofolk album, more in line with In Luft geritzt but not as overtly intense. It's one of those records that lives and dies by restraint, and can't possibly be understood by hearing it in any way other than in its entirety.
Much of the best-known pagan metal* makes its mark through its epic scope (Negură Bunget, Agalloch, Falkenbach). Dornenreich have here captured a more intimate sound than ever before. Whispered vocals have always been a big part of what they do, as are the acoustic guitar and violin, but it's more hushed than ever. Opener "Im ersten aller Spiele" has sufficient intensity to draw you in, but the quiet forces you to pay attention. You feel the mourning of "Des Meeres Atmen." The only truly metal song on the album, "Das Licht vertraut der Nacht," is all the more impactful because of that. Electric guitar continues to make appearances, but never takes center stage. Instead, quiet is key, and beauty. "Traumestraum" (which means something like "wound upon wound") is almost tear-inducing.
Do I wish it were more metal? Yes, to be honest. But I wouldn't meddle with it. It is what it's supposed to be, and in that sense it couldn't be better. The saddest thing about this is, it might be the band's last record. If so, it's a fitting epitaph for such an accomplished but under-appreciated group.
The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
* I don't think there is a consensus on this point, but my understanding of pagan metal is that it is neofolk blended with black metal, regardless of lyrical content.