‘Songs for the Slain’ diverse and compelling

For anyone still wondering what folk-metal sounds like, Winterhymn’s debut album “Songs for the Slain” is now available. Winterhymn, a local band with four members who are students at Northern Kentucky University, held a release party for the album Oct. 8 at Radiodown, in Covington.

“Songs for the Slain” starts off with violin and synthesizers on the track “In the Troll Forest.” About one minute into the song, the drums and guitars come in, followed by the growling vocals of Austin Wolfe (known in the band as “Ulfr”). Individuals who are not fans of growling or other undecipherable lyrics might be tempted to stop the album at this point. These listeners might want to give the album a chance, though. About two minutes into the song, Wolfe’s vocals are countered by those of Jared Compton (nicknamed “Draug”). Compton’s vocals are as smooth as Wolfe’s are garbled, and could even be likened to the likes of Matt Barlow of the band Iced Earth.

After “In the Troll Forest,” the characters have been set: Ulfr is the creature of darkness, bent on the destruction of all things good, and Draug is the hero. Regardless what lyrics either are singing, their voices convey these roles through the rest of the album.

The second track, “Castle Kelly,” starts off with more muddled growling, but it later highlights Kate Liebisch’s (“Umbriel”) talent as a violinist. The cleverly titled “Dispelling the Mist,” which follows, begins with a melancholically slow beat; but about a minute in the pace picks up, driven heavy guitars and drums. Ulfr’s lyrics are easier to understand on this track than many of the others.

The album carries itself with a strange mix of heavy metal and folk music that seems to hearken back to Europe 500 years ago. Most of the songs seem to be rallying war anthems with a few exceptions.

Some of the tracks use sound effects or ambient noise to create scene-setting intros. “Up from the Roots,” for example, begins with an eerie quietude, set to the sounds of a wintry wind and distant wolf howls. Then a snarl gives way to guitar and drum line. “Alesong,” which is somewhat reminiscent of the Celtic punk band Flogging Molly, employs a similar tactic — this time giving the listener the impression that the song takes place in a tavern. Unfortunately, the intro sounds a little bit too modern, and is ill-suited to the rest of the song and the album.

The album as a whole displays solid musicianship, although the latter half seems to be laden with more heavy guitar and drums than violin and synthesizers. The final track, “The Berserker’s Axe,” combines the two. It begins with a deceptively happy-go-lucky synthesizer intro, then quickly switches to heavy metal. However, the bridges of the song revert back to the folk influence.

The second half of the album also includes fewer vocals from Draug, which may be disappointing to individuals who prefer clean vocals to growling. Even on tracks that feature Ulfr exclusively, though, the music is compelling enough to be enjoyed by some fairweather metal fans.