Für der Väter heilig Land

Heimstatt

Artist: de Halgadom
Release: Heimstatt
Record company: Sonnenkreuz
Year: 2008
Language: German
Genre: For Neofolk and Fatherland

Original Dutch text and English translation by Degtyarov
(Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie)

derwald

A spark of German genius

It has almost been two years since the first review was posted on this website. Since that day, nearly every band that has been discussed here can be classified as black metal. This was never intentional, but it has become increasingly difficult for yours truly to delve into other subgenres of metal. What I find particularly fascinating about black metal is its paradoxic nature: while the status of black metal as a genre implies that the bands that fall into this category abide to a uniform set of rules and conventions, the number of base elements that bind black metal do not form an obstacle for an amount of variety that is truly unheard of. Part of this versatility can be attributed to the fact that black metal is easily mixed with other music styles, such as industrial, folk music and punk; preferably all at the same time. The traditional black metal sound, too, finds its roots in a multitude of styles: even in the most conservative black metal project,Krämer one can witness a sense of aggression equal to thrash metal, an anti-conventional aesthetic reminiscent of punk and oi groups, and an elaborate structure unbound by the strict rules of pop and rock, akin to what can usually be observed in classical music.

Of course, every (sub)genre is flexible enough to allow at least a dosed amount diversity, and it is seldom a single influence that leads to the creation of a new type of music. But what is particularly remarkable about black metal compared to, for example, death, power and thrash, is its potential as a national art. Vague but still noticeable contours of the genre will naturally always be present, but the best black metal bands are those that distinguish themselves by either majestically or caricaturally allowing their cultural background to resonate in their music. With this, they form the antithesis to the uniformity that tends to dominate pop, indie and other conventional genres. Having music as national art is important, as that music allows you to escape such horrors of the modern world as American mass culture and globalisation: for many, music is a near-spiritual experience, making it all the more important that the music you listen to represents something that you can connect with. And if bands such as U2 and Coldplay are the musical equivalent of McDonald’s, then Kawir and Peste Noire are the cabin in the wood that you go to in order to escape the urban hell and its fast-food culture.

One of my most-visited ‘cabins’ of the past few years is Halgadom‘s Heimstatt album, which saw the light of day in 2008. While the fifth studio album of this German collective is in fact neofolk, the band finds its roots in the black metal scene: apart from neofolk, the band has mainly put out raw German black metal in the vein of Heldentum and Totenburg, with several familiar/notorious individuals having contributed to the project in the past, such as Sebastian Schauseil (Wolfsmond, ex-Absurd). Band leader Frank Krämer is not all that unfamiliar (let alone uncontroversial) a figure himself: apart from being the frontman of Halgadom, he is also a long-time member of the infamous German RAC band Stahlgewitter, whose impertinent national-socialist lyrics led to their music being banned in their home country. However, Heimstatt takes place on a wholly different plain, both lyrically and musically. Conceptually, the album stands much closer to nature, becoming almost spiritual music that is not to be seen in the same light as the political reality from which Krämer’s more controversial project draws inspiration.

“Subtle references to historical events go hand-in-hand with panegyrics to a mythical dimension.”

From the start of the instrumental opening track, it is clear that Halgadom opts for an approach that is witnessed quite commonly in neofolk. Mysterious guitar melodies aim to let the listener embark on a journey to the past, or rather, a past: subtle references to historical events go hand-in-hand with panegyrics to a mythical dimension, which evokes a colourful yet blurred memory of a past that seems unreal, but somehow still stands close to us on an emotional level. For instance, the song “Des Adlers letzter Flug” can be interpreted as an implicit expression of nostalgia towards the German Empire: “Das Herz nun hart in Bitterkeit / Die nie verstandene Ewigkeit / Empor gerungen Zug um Zug / War dies des Adlers letzter Flug (?)” [1]. At the same time, the poetic, metaphorical layer transforms both the music and the lyrics into a unity that, in its turn, delves much deeper than a simple political message. This renders it much easier to appreciate the lyrics for what they are, without having to question one’s personal political preferences.

Fortunately, the men of Halgadom do not attempt to approach the listener on high horses. Instead, they offer sober, sometimes even modest compositions. While, in terms of sound, themes and concept, Heimstatt is unquestionably neofolk (seeing as the lyrics are simply too profound to be rock or pop), the compositions themselves remind of acoustic rock, due to both the presence of a drum kit (which is rather atypical of neofolk) and the pop structure of the songs. Said sobriety is reflected also by the technical aspects of the musicianship: Frank Krämer is definitely not the best singer out there, but as is often the case with neofolk, the sincerity with which he presents his poetic lyrics trumps any technical aspects of the vocals in terms of importance. Moreover, a more bombastic approach would have in fact only been able to damage the credibility of an honest, organic album such as this.

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Noticeable, too, about the album as a whole, is that (as was mentioned earlier) the music is very spiritual in nature: music that does not depart from rationality, but instead draws upon such elements as emotion and sentiment; marvel and devotion. If Heimstatt would have to be summarised by means of a single qualification, it would be ‘Romantic’. In the music, nature manifests itself as a sublime entity. In “Der Wald”, for example, Krämer sings: “Bis zu den Wurzeln in der Erde / Du seiest das stolze Sein und Werde / Schmettre Deine Drohgebärde / In die Welt der dunklen Leere” [2]. The titular woods are described as proud and beautiful, but also mysterious and perilous. Above all, however, nature is revealed to be a sentient entity with an own will, and own ideas about what is right. The song “Eisblume” also reflects this. Even though the lyrics initially seem to establish the ice flower as a fragile ‘being’, it actually comes to reflect the divine, symbolising the cyclical interpretation of time (“Sie erzählt von Wiederkehr / Das nichts auf Dauer kann vergehen / Selbst Sterne werden neu geboren / So lang sich Zeitenräder drehen” [3]), transforming the fragile ice flower into an entity that is immortal, or better yet, unending. This knowledge softens the final words of the song, “Lebe wohl Eisblume…” [4]

“Some of the lyrics display a bitter, sarcastic, yet humorous style that only seems to exist in the German metal scene.”

The sublime experience of nature and the manner in which she is even provided with sentience remind of the perception of nature as is witnessed in Romanticism. World-devouring waves, breathing forests and all-mighty mountains: in Halgadom’s music, too, an omnipresent nature symbolises strength. This does not mean, however, that Heimstatt is the mere aural equivalent of a hike through nature. Even more so than the constant presence of nature in the lyrics, it is history – interwoven with mythology – that is the element that knits the album together. “Walkürenritt” gives a first-person account of a warrior who dies an honourable death on the battlefield, while “Die Schöne im Sturm” takes the listener on a journey to Hellenic antiquity; the song is dedicated to the 300 Spartans, who, aided by several hundreds Thespians and Thebans, destroyed many thousands of Persian invaders near Thermopylae. Both songs emit a strong sense of ijsbloemenpatriotism. The end of “Walkürenritt” tells us: “Ich liege erschlagen auf den Land meiner Ahnen / Doch es wehen die siegreichen Fahnen / Mein Tod hat sich doch gelohnt” [5]. A similar message can be found in the last verse of “Die Schöne im Sturm”: “Drum Brüder auf, den Blick nach vorn, keiner von uns soll verzagen / Für der Väter heilig Land, wollen wir die Fackel tragen” [6]. Here, too, a political undercurrent of the nationalist kind is hinted towards. Particularly in the song “Die Schöne im Sturm”, it is abundantly obvious that an event from a (semi-mythical) past is being linked to the present: the more tribal dedication of the inhabitants of the Spartan city state and their Hellenic brothers is implicitly equated with the nation-bound unity that connects the German people.

The album becomes even more profound when a religious dimension is added to the palette of leitmotivs that shape Heimstatt. “Gerechter Lohn” tells in a tragicomic tone how a village inhabited by pagans is burned to the ground by Christian missionaries, after which they (the Christians) get ‘what they deserve’ (which, by the way, is a loose translation of the song’s title), that being the wrath of Donar. On a lyrical level, the most appealing aspect of this song is the presence of several bitter, sarcastic, yet slightly humorous lines in a style that only seems to exist in the German metal scene [7]. For instance, the song starts with a relatively fast-paced guitar melody and a description of how the afore-mentioned village is burned to the ground, the sombreness of this image being self-explanatory. Yet the first verse ends with the words: “Ein großes Kreuz wo einst der Hain / Soll das die Nächstenliebe sein” [8]. The song subsequently tells of a woman who refuses to convert to Christianity and, as a result, is placed on the pyre by the officiating Bonifacius. And just as the flames consume the young woman – in the presence of her child, even – the missionary gets what he so richly deserves: “Doch plötzlich aus des Himmels Wolken / Fährt ein Blitz zur Erde nieder / Es fällt der Pfaffe ohne Ton / Das war sein gerechter Lohn” [9]. In “Wotans wilde Jagd”, such irony is absent, yet the message – the longing for a return to Europe’s old faith – remains unchanged: “Wer seiner Strafe bis jetzt entging / Hat nun dafür zu leiden” [10].

“You will be able to grasp the album’s essence even if you do not understand German.”

Another remarkable aspect of the presence of all these different themes and dimensions in the lyrics, is their influence on the music. While the album possesses a uniform sound in terms of production and style, the different aspects of the lyrics still seem to cause subtle but therefore no less real differences in the musical approach. The more nationalist-oriented lyrics on this album (“Des Adlers letzter Flug”, “Walkürenritt” and “Die Schöne im Sturm”) have a melancholic character, which, in the latter-named song, is underlined by the presence of a cello. The music reflects rather brilliantly the balance between the sad memory of what has been lost on one hand, and the joyous anticipation of the dawn of better days on the other. Conversely, the songs with a religious theme have an uplifting feel to them, underlining musically the passion with which paganism is embraced, and fierceness that characterises the band’s rejection of Christianity.

The connection between music and lyrics is so strong that you will be able to grasp the album’s essence even without being able to understand German. Heimstatt is a sentimental album: the melancholy and vehemence of the compositions “Die Schöne im Sturm” and “Gerechter Lohn” respectively, also become apparent without a good comprehension of the lyrics. Even though the lyrics are remarkably strong both poetically and in terms of their actual content, it is evident that the music is strong enough to stand on its own feet when one realises that the closing track “Stille” in reality tells us just as much as the other songs on the album.

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In the end, however, it is the culmination of all the elements mentioned in this analysis that make Heimstatt the beautiful work of art that it is. Guided by the sober ensemble of Frank, Michel, Stefan and Marcel, we travel through Greek antiquity, endless forests and majestic skies reclaimed by Donar and Wotan. The sublime experience of nature, a mythological past and the subtle yet omnipresent love for the Fatherland testify of a völkisch interpretation of nationhood; a call for national fraternisation by means of the elementary [11]: all of these elements are the building stones of an incredibly tasteful rendition of the concept national art. Philosopher and nutcase Ernesto Giménez Caballero [12] once claimed that every people has its own ‘genius’: a natural state of being that helps the nation in question fulfil her potential both politically and artistically. If there is any truth in this at all, then I can think of no album that approaches the German ‘genius’ more closely than Halgadom‘s Heimstatt.

Line-up:
Frank – guitar, vocals, composition, lyrics
Marcel – bass, cello
Stefan – drums
Michel – guitar, backing vocals

Tracklist:
1. Heimstatt (3:30)
2. Des Adlers letzter Flug (3:42)
3. Walkürenritt (5:10)
4. Die Schöne im Sturm (4:31)
5. Der Wald (2:52)
6. Gerechter Lohn (4:41)
7. Eisblume (4:12)
8. Wotans Wilde Jagd (4:49)
9. Stille (4:15)

Total running time: 37:42

Notes:
[1] “The heart, now hard in bitterness / The never understood eternity / Wrestled up, turn by turn / Was this the eagle’s last flight?”
Two remarks about this translation: a) The last line contains an ambiguity that cannot be translated into English. Due to the linguistic phenomenon of inversion, “War dies des Alders letzter Flug” can be both a confirmation and a question, hence why the question mark is in parenthesis in the original German text. b) While this really should be common knowledge, I’ll point out that the eagle is of course the symbol of the German Empire.
[2] “Down to the roots of the earth / You shall be the proud being and becoming / Clash your threatening gestures / In(to) the world of dark emptiness”
[3] “She tells of return / That nothing can perish by duration / Even stars are born anew / As long as the wheels of time are spinning”
[4] “Farewell ice flower…”
[5] “I lie beaten on the land of my ancestors / But the flags of victory are waving / My death was not in vain”
[6] “So rise, brothers / None of us shall back down / For the holy land of our fathers / We want to carry the torch”
[7] Heimstatt may be a neofolk album, but Halgadom as a band is active primarily in the black metal scene. As such, the presence of sarcasm must be viewed in this light. For example, take a look at the quoted passages in my old review of Heldentum‘s Waffenweihe.
[8] “A great cross [stands] where the grove once was / Is that supposed to be neighbourly love?”
[9] “Yet suddenly from the heaven’s clouds / Lightning struck down onto Earth / The Bible thumper fell without a tone / He got what he asked for”
[10] “Who evaded his punishment until now / Will have to suffer for it”
[11] For a more profound explanation of what I mean with “elementary”, I refer you to this quote from one of my old academic works: “In order to comprehend the juxtaposition between centralist nationalists on one side, and regionalist nationalists on the other, it is necessary to be aware of the distinctions one can make between two important currents within Nationalism. The first, perhaps most controversial current is that of völkisch nationalism; the word “völkisch” being an adjective derived from the German ‘Volk’ (Eng. people, folk, nation) that was originally attributed to a German movement from the late nineteenth century that promoted a nationalism rooted mainly in ethnicity. This movement produced such concepts as purity of race and a desire for correspondence between race and territory, which would ultimately see their most extreme manifestation in the decades that followed, during the rise of Nazi Germany.

However, what we came to understand as völkisch nationalism does not limit itself to German nationalism, or national-socialism. It refers to all nationalisms that strive to define the concept of nationhood utilising elementary traits – ‘elementary’ in the sense of being, according to this perception, closely linked to the nature of man. Under this category can be found such traits as language, cultural traditions, customs, national festivities and essentially all elements that are perceived as ‘natural’ within this current. Many, though not all nationalist movements of this type include in various ways the aspect of ethnicity or race in this list of elements that define nationality, making the denomination ‘ethnic nationalism’ a somewhat viable alternative to the loanword ‘völkisch‘; at least more accurately so than the term ‘cultural nationalism’, which Clare Mar-Molinero suggests in her book Nationalism and the Nation in the Iberian Peninsula: Completing and Conflicting Identities (Mar-Molinero, 2000: 69).

The other principal current of Nationalism is state nationalism (of the Dutch term ‘staatsnationalisme’ or the German ‘Staatsnationalismus’), also called juridical nationalism, a variation of nationalism in which nationality is not defined by elementary traits such as ethnicity and language, but by the juridical relation between man and state. Within this perspective, individuals of different cultural backgrounds are well able to become members of the same nation; in essence, nationality converts into something flexible as opposed to static. A classic example of this interpretation of nationality is provided by Revolutionary France, which centralised the government and bestowed a cultural model upon its inhabitants. Even the United States, moreover, shows influences of state nationalism in the manner in which they define nationhood, even if it would be slightly ambitious to label it as a nationalist country.

Generally speaking, the most elemental difference between the ethnic and juridical nationalisms is that, within the völkisch doctrine, the borders of a state ought to be dictated by the frontiers of a nation, while in the juridical current, the people within a certain territory are expected to conform to a cultural model dictated by the state. […]”
[12] Legend has it that Giménez Caballero planned to arrange a marriage between Pilar Primo de Rivera (the sister of Falangist leader José Antonio) and Adolf Hitler, in an attempt to tame the latter’s boiling Protestant blood with some hot Catholic pussy action. That didn’t quite work out, now, did it?

Music listened to during this review: Totenburg, Zhaoze, Heldentum, Amesoeurs, Ulver.

Beer consumed during this review: LöwenWeisse, and lots of it.

Thanks to Poswicht for the translation of fragments [1] and [2].

About degtyarov (121 Articles)
Molotov cocktail in the face of music whorenalism.

1 Comment on Für der Väter heilig Land

  1. N.B. This review was written over a period of more than six months. For comparison, writing a review usually doesn’t take me more than a day. As such, this turned into sort of a nightmare project to me. So if it comes across as a slightly schizophrenic piece of prose, you know why.

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