Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom – An Overview Of The 2002 – 2010 Discography …   Leave a comment

To me Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom is one of the most curious and interesting doom bands around. As I noticed this band is not yet covered at Doommantia, I decided to go through it to a certain depth and write something about.

The first time ever I saw something about them, their 2002 demo “The Sleeping Trees Have Eyes”, thought about Darkthrone playing Sabbathian traditional heavy doom … Wow!

The band’s own definition of their style is “English Heathen Blackened-Doom-Crust-Metal”.

So Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom are definitely not for purists!

Band members are Dagfari Wartooth on bass and vocals and Sceot Acwealde on drums and guitars.

Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom, or, in short, Bretwaldas, hails from Birmingham, or better from the Marcia area, in mid UK.

From Myspace you can learn that Bretwaldas formed in 2001 as a slow pagan doom act with influences from the darkest recesses of English 80’s metal and hardcore punk, in particular authentic British metal gods such as Amebix, Hawkwind and Motörhead. The music soon sped up in accordance with the stark subject matter of lyricist / bass player Wartooth. So, after the 2002 demo “The Sleeping Trees Have Eyes”, the band released three CDs: “Droner” from 2003, the well-received “Battle Staffs In The Mushroom Woods” from 2006, and “Seven Bloodied Ramparts” that was unleashed in early May 2010.

All albums were released via King Penda Productions. Label King Penda Productions is based in the British Midland, and has the following mission: “releasing music by a small group of maverick artistic collaborators working to re-establish the link between mind, land, past and future, and to drink as much beer as possible along the way!”. Cheers!

Acwealde also militates in two other pagan-black metal acts belonging to the King Penda’s roster, i.e. Herne and Symbel. The latter released their debut album in 2003 on Angelisc Enterprises, an obscure UK label interacting with heathen cultures.

The band seems to have adopted a somehow secluded, or “reserved”, attitude as, for example, they don’t take part to live gigs and they have almost zero promotion policy. Notwithstanding, the music scene discovered them and the words written about them on metal magazines and fan/webzines are basically of praise and appreciation about their peculiar musical production. But in spite of the reserved attitude towards the music scene (a feature I would like to know a bit more about …), Wartooth and Sceot Acwealde must be friendly people, as they declare their full adherence /adoption of the social, pub-oriented mission of the label, eh eh …

There’s a lot of “British” (or I should write, “Bret”), and “epic” in this band: band name, battle nicknames of the members, lyrics, atmospheres depicted in the cover arts and, of course, features in music.

Let’s start from the long and weird, epic-sounding name, Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom. This is not coming out as one of those Harry Potter’s neologisms but it’s a serious thing: as explained in short on Wikipedia, Bretwalda is a term indicating a ruler of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom from the 5th century onwards, who achieved overlordship of some or all of the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

And “Heathen”, well, is what most of pagan epic (metal) music is about.

Our Bretwaldas metal warriors proudly write and sing about stories recovered from ancient, very dark, often brutal, pre-Middle-age centuries, and inspired by the Scandinavian, pagan, Odinist religion, rituals, myths and beliefs. Inspiring stories and myths are all taken from the British heritage. The power of nature is a further source of inspiration.

British reviewers who better know the topics, surely can evaluate the themes much better than a Southern European (who, like me, studied some fine but “standard” English literature at school) and can especially appreciate the linguistic subtleties adopted by Wartooth in song-writing. As Julian Cope from the UK musical webzine Head Heritage pointed out, this duo employes Mercian Midland accent and some words or expressions either taken from Danish or stemming from how the ancient Brits named things after the Roman dominators. By the way, Julian Cope included the 2010 album Seven Bloodied Ramparts among his “albums of the month” choices.

Julian Cope duly highlights the charms and the contrasts involving this band. The archaic sound of the titles of the tracks, like ‘Paths of River, Root & Stone’, ‘Beneath the Eaves’, ‘Old Walls, Wild Woods’ and ‘Hwicce Fif Ans’, “named after the long forgotten southern territory of Mercia” cope with the images evoked by this project, i.e. visions of “damp forest temples of Woden, pungent with the wood smoke of council fires surrounded by be-helmeted tribal elders”. This happens in spite of the fact that Bretwaldas’ music is “frenetically current and is propelled by a post-punk energy and darkness that no pre-punk metal band ever felt the need to unleash”.

The cover arts are varied but are in line with the background of the band mentioned above. Images an be very catchy, as a cover art can be for a fanatic of British heavy music and of typical British gloomy fairy tale-like atmospheres: e.g., see the damp, northern forest in the cover for “Battle Staffs In The Mushroom Woods”. Or else the images adopetd can be comparably anonymous. The latter is the case for the cover art in the 2010 album: a quiet, solitary willow of the British countryside is shown with a simple pole and wire fence across with nothing happening. But this may well be a place where centuries ago strenuous bloody battles took place. That is probably a willow bearing ancestral messages from a distant past which are there to be captured and deciphered from those who want to know about their history.

The music is an original mix of styles that may be not so “epic” if taken alone, but their mix may make sense if the aim is to use extreme metal music to tell about ages when life was heavy, gloomy and rather “raw”.

My feeling is that Bretwaldas’ music style has been following an evolutionary path during the almost ten years of activity of the band. I liked the early Bretwaldas and I dig the new ones as well.

Tune-wise, the Bretwaldas, unique style in the early days can be well described by the colourful and epigrammatically sharp definition given by a blogger (Renrats): “ They play a really dirty kind of doom that sounds like Motörhead and Venom mixed with Saint Vitus and a touch of Hellhammer thrown in for good measure. It is truly unlike anything I’ve ever heard before or since.” Another intense description has compared Breatwaldas to a blend of Sabbathian tunes and Joy Division from the Unknown Pleasures debut LP.

The six tracks of the 2003 album Droner still retain the early rawness of the 2002 demo also by adopting the same moderate lo-fi quality of sounds that makes so much “underground”. It’s a weird type of doom, made of very heavy, distorted riffs, frequent up-tempo rhythms with a punkish attitude, catchy but gloomy melodies variably hinting to genres as stoner to traditional doom and even, rarely, gothic doom. Vocals contribute to variety as they shift from Lemmy-wise gritty to grunty and growled and occasionally even clean (and this is when a gothic feeling comes out). Insets of spoken part contribute to enhance the sense of mystery and solemnity of the archaic atmospheres and stories accounted for in the lyrics.

These first releases clearly show that the band is training solidly and is able to get cool performance in different genres.

The 2006 album “Battle Staffs In The Mushroom Woods” and the 2010 album “Seven Bloodied Ramparts” show how the band has been focusing their tunes without loosing their ability of making highly headbangable, gripping heavy tunes.

The 2006 “Battle Staffs In The Mushroom Woods”, the album with the gloomiest cover art of the band’s releases, is maybe the less doomy one as the up-tempo rhythms prevail in that mixture of raw heavy metal tinged of doom and black metal. So the sounds are not so orthodox doom, but the atmospheres and the archaic energies aroused by this heavy, raw yet modern-sounding punkish battle metal are as gloomy and epic and obscure as in heavy doom.

The new, solid 2010 “Seven Bloodied Ramparts” album is probably the most epic one, without loosing the freshness of the punkish attitude palpitating throughout the tunes. In the seven tracks of the album, mighty riffs and a gloriously audible bassline are as heavy and pounding as the ancient weapons against the Christian usurpers the duo sing about. Compared to the previous releases, the epic feeling is accompanied by moodier and more melancholic atmospheres even if vocals are still Lemmy-style gritty ansd no gothic clean vocals are employed. However the band never let their raw, old-school, high-energy punkish attitude down and this helps in avoiding monotony through excessive melancholia. 

The most recent Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom’s albums are sold via King Penda Productions on-line shop. The hard-to-find debut 2002 demo had been posted on a few blogs after the tracks were kindly donated by the band. The 2003 album Droner is out of production but the label and the band agreed in recovering it and selling a digital version of it via Bancamp.

The band is working on a new album which will bear the title “Looting the Barrows” and will come out soon. And, well, I’m among those who can’t wait for it!

As a vote is required for the reviews here, I’m proposing a comprehensive vote that takes into account how I like atmospheres, heaviness and style contamination, especially when the styles are “old-school”, “raw” and “glorious” like, for example, trve west-Midland-born, dark heavy Sabbathian doom and  Motörhead-shaped raw punk metal …… 9/10

Review by Marilena Moroni (Mari)

Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom  Myspace

Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom Webpage

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Posted February 27, 2011 by doommantia in Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom

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