Album Review

Hulder – “Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry” – [20 Buck Spin]

Terra Incognita   11/12/2022   A Library, CD

“Godslastering” can be translated from Dutch as “blasphemy.” The blasphemy of this album is that Hulder dedicates her hymns not to God but to the common people——those who toil fruitlessly in the frozen ground, who are subjugated and forced into labor and war, who die of famine and disease, who contend with pain, isolation, and desperation. What better way to express this narrative of misery than through the music of black metal.

Self-described as dark medieval black metal, Hulder is the creation of multi-instrumentalist Marliese “Marz” Beeuwsaert. Since inception in 2018, Hulder has released a number of demos, singles, and EPs; Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry is the first LP (released in 2021). On this album she performs the vocals, guitars, bass, and keyboards. (Necreon was the session drummer.)

Hulder presents us with music that is at once furious and melodic, melding black metal with folk in unique ways, both subtly and not so subtly. This is reflected not just in her musicianship but also in her vocal style. She has strong, low, black metal vocals that rage but aren’t so distorted that the lyrics are undiscernible. She can also sing gently in soprano and is likely the source of the choral singing in the background of a few tracks. Hulder incorporates folk elements that add to the dark ambiance rather than detract from it——there are only patches of light, quickly overtaken by gloom, frigidness, blustering gales, and sudden downpours.

The two tracks that I’m most drawn to, I have come to realize, represent two extremes of the album: “De Dijle”and “Lowland Famine.”

“De Dijle” (Track 4) is named after the river Dyle, which runs through Hulder’s hometown in the Flanders region of Belgium. It begins with the sounds of the river’s flow and the melody of an acoustic guitar, but this initial tranquility is gradually submerged. This song is plagued with an eerie, gentle, looming darkness. Hulder reigns in her terror-rage black metal vocals to a raspy, echoing whisper to spin tales of the river, all in Dutch. The acoustic guitars and keyboards are in the forefront, with electric guitar entering later and only in the background to add to the song’s unfolding intensity.

“Lowland Famine” (Track 6) attacks immediately, with fast drums and melodic guitars and keyboards. Hulder’s vocals are an onslaught of harsh retribution. The guitar and the keyboard each get their spotlight, but the guitar gets more lead time in this song compared with the others. This song thrashes melodic black metal, drops down to a slow, marching anthem marked by double kick drum, roams the landscape, and ends solitarily with the guitar.

The two extremes are both represented in “A Forlorn Peasant’s Hymn” (Track 7). The first three verses are in Dutch, sung with soft, breathy, high-pitched vocals, and nestled in melodic electroacoustic guitar and synth. This folk ballad style strikingly breaks into fast, full-boar metal midway, and Hulder’s vocals turn to heavy savagery, sung in English. The ending is revved up and abrupt. This song is a culmination of Hulder’s range of styles and creativity and is appropriately the title track in essence.

Folk elements are also present in “Sown in Barren Soil” (Track 3) and “From Whence an Ancient Evil Once Reigned” (Track 8). These elements include acoustic guitar and bass, subtle choral vocals, flute (synthesized?), and ambient sounds of nature.

The black metal within which all of this is grounded——the brutal vocals, pummeling drums, straightforward riffs, and melodic keyboard and guitar leads——is solid. Between and within songs, the tempo and rhythm shift. The tracks more firmly rooted in classic black metal are “Upon Frigid Winds” (Track 1), “Creature of Demonic Majesty” (Track 2), and “Purgations of Bodily Corruptions” (Track 5).

Hulder harbors her heritage in her music; she brings with her an appreciation for the culture, daily ritual, and natural surroundings of the rural farm country she grew up in. This album’s lyrics portray a mythical realm, but instilled is a respect for generations past, an acknowledgement of their struggles, and a consciousness of humanity’s deep roots. Despite the medieval imagery, the lyrics transcend myth and time, reflecting the plight of humankind in perpetuity. The hardship and hunger and death represented particularly contrast against the overabundance and indulgence of the US, which Hulder herself has called witness to, having moved to the US over ten years ago and now being based in the Pacific Northwest. As a piece of Hulder’s journey to further her consciousness of self, this album also furthers humanity’s consciousness of itself and its environment. Did we truly leave the Dark Ages behind?

To Hulder I say, Gezondheid!

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