Holy Blood represents Christian viking metal

The Ukrainian band’s first release in three years gushes melodramatic bombast.



Maxwell Heilman, Writer

Of all the movements in religious music, Christian black metal takes the cake as the most unlikely. Kickstarted by Norway’s Antestor and Australia’s Horde in the late 1990s, “unblack metal” experienced extreme backlash from the militant and violent satanists who helmed the original Scandinavian movement, dismissal from the secular music community and condemnation from mainstream Christianity. Even so, bands playing this extreme music for the Lord have emerged around the world — as exemplified by Ukraine’s Holy Blood’s brand of viking metal.

an emphasis on musicianship

Viking metal branches off from the black and folk metal umbrellas, embracing the imagery, aesthetic and musical callbacks to the pre-Christendom seafarer’s culture. Other than Slechtvalk from the Netherlands, Holy Blood stands as one of the only viking metal bands to gain recognition — and certainly the most vocal about their faith. In an interview on their website, frontman and mastermind Fedor Buzilevich claims to serve at his local church.

“Not everything that we don’t understand immediately is a lie or a fairy tale,” Buzilevich said. “Let God give you a chance, let Him open your soul.”

With such an upfront stance, much hinges on Holy Blood’s music parallelling the strength of their faith. “Glory To the Heroes” does not bring anything mind-blowing to the table, but will please fans of the genre and curious newcomers.

“Glory to the Heroes” has an emphasis on musicianship rather than lyrics and songwriting. “Primary Rus” takes full advantage of this, with a walking keyboard string melody alternating with soaring guitar leads and tumbling drums. Although heavily layered, the song’s blistering solo work and double kick drum keep it memorably powerful. The final chord fades out abruptly and unnaturally, emphasizing the main issue with this album — the production. Its sterile cleanness diminishes the cohesive impact of the songs, emphasizing plasticky replications of actual instruments. While keyboards have a well-documented place in metal, they should not come at the expense of earthy grit.

mighty riffs and propulsive drumming

Fire by the Sword” introduces Buzilevich’s vocals — the most jarring element of the record. Baritone slavkin chanting commingle with guttural battle cries. They actually fit into the mix, complementing galloping rhythm and riffage surprisingly well. What results is a shamelessly cheesy yet compelling journey via longboats into glorious battlegrounds. Also introduced is the Buzilevich flute, which stands out with natural timbre and convincing execution.

The theme of melodrama done right continues with “Get Ready for Battle,” which fleshes out the band’s dynamic potential. As flute refrains guide the song from triumphant crescendos, the drums also showcase their driving groove and tasteful fills. In fact, the instruments play off each other swimmingly in spite of the lacking production. The second instrumental track, “Sophia of Kiev,” provides plenty of examples of Holy Blood’s musicality. Shredy, melodically dense and undeniably heavy, this track evokes the glory of victory in battle. Even though brass synth feels inappropriate to the album’s slavic feel, mighty riffs and propulsive drumming win the day and make it one of the most memorable tracks.

“Glory to the Heroes” goes out on a high note with its title track. Guitars, drums and flutes sync up for mosh-worthy jams while Buzilevich’s voice rumbles forward. Juxtaposing slow, heavy riffage with triplet-based intensity, every instrument Holy Blood made use of in the past finds a tasteful place in the mix. While their newest outing suffers from a sore lack of punchy and believable production, Holy Blood still manifests their skill and provides a solid entry into the Christian viking metal annals.

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