Originally formed in 1997, Ukrainian metallers Paganland have been active on and off for years but suffered ongoing lineup issues and never released a full album. Finally, though, they’ve managed to record and release a full album, making Wind of Freedom their official debut.


As you might expect from the name, this is folk-styled pagan metal of the hallmark Eastern European variety. Making extensive use of clean, sometimes chant-style vocals and the lilting folk rhythms that are the standard for the genre, Paganland deliver a set of intensely melodic, symphonic-edged tracks spread across a varied emotional range; from the moody, wistful tones of “Chornohora” to the fiercer, brighter likes of “Power of Spirit”. While all the lyrics are in Ukrainian so I can’t vouch for the exact content, Paganland’s collective heart lies with the folklore, history and tradition of their country, and even without the help of the lyrics there’s a strong sense of atmosphere conjured by the music. Additional ambiance is provided by the samples that open nearly every track: the natural melodies of running water, the clamour of battle, a child’s voice singing what appears to be a traditional folk song, and so on.


One thing that I was initially unsure about but really grew on me after a few listens is the somewhat low-fi edge to the production, which makes the whole album sound atmospherically rough around the edges as though hewn straight from the rock and wood of its native land. There’s a distinct treble bias in the sound so everything comes out with a twangy edge, most conspicuously the bass, but this suits the folky style of the music. The musicianship sounds less than perfectly polished in places, but again, this adds to the sense of homegrown authenticity about the album and it’s not to say that there isn’t some very genuine talent in this band. Certainly their songwriting is fine, and there are some pleasingly imaginative flourishes; the bridge of “Podolyanka” with its sweet, soulful guitars, the touches of what I’m guessing to be authentic Ukrainian folk instruments in the likes of “Night Forest” and intro “Wheel of Eternity”, and more besides.


But – and taking nothing away from Paganland, as they’ve obviously put their hearts into this album and I really do enjoy listening to it – in the end, Wind of Freedom doesn’t do anything to single itself out (certainly not to me as a non-Ukrainian-speaker) compared to a lot of equally good folk/pagan metal albums out there. Beautiful it assuredly is, but it doesn’t quite capture my imagination enough for me to rate it a classic. Well worth hearing if this is your kind of thing, though. [7/10 – KIT RATHENAR]