Romuvos began life as a one-man act (that man being Velnias) and released a debut album in 2012. With the addition of a full band, a second album appeared in 2016. The Baltic Crusade is my first exposure to them and fits into the four-year release cycle, appearing earlier this year.
Describing themselves as “epic pagan folk metal” is about as accurate as it gets, with the folk element being turned up high. The requisite smorgasbord of instruments is used (flute, bagpipe, jaw harp, nyckelharpa…), and there’s a wealth of nice samples to set the scene around each song: blowing winds, the burble of streams and so forth. The album sets out to tell the tale of the pagan Balkan peoples’ fight against Christianity between 1236 and 1279, a “crusade” that followed the more well-known Crusades. Each song focuses on a single battle over this period and is named (and dated!) appropriately.
Essentially, Romuvos are using music for one of its age-old purposes, to teach history. Songs are a way of celebrating victory and commiserating defeat but more importantly recording events. They do say that history is written by the victors and… well, let’s just point out who wrote these songs!
The overall sound is fairly laid back. The sound is rich and full, with the vocals sung in various styles which interact with the multiple instruments well. The timbre of the singing often makes the words come across as droned, but this isn’t as criticism as it fits perfectly with the music itself. This isn’t balls to the wall heavy metal, it’s the kind that washes over you rather than thumps into you. With a somewhat more gentle rhythm and done instrumentally, this would qualify as atmospheric music. However, Romuvos have taken the atmosphere of each piece and given it a bit more life with the addition of a story.
While not as epic-sounding as some bands and not as metal-sounding as others, Velnias and his crew have allowed both of these tones to flourish harmoniously by reining them both in. The Baltic Crusade is very much an album to listen and pay attention to rather than one to go mad to. Performed live, I can almost see them doing as well at a seated venue with some dramatisation or narration than I can at a regular outdoor festival.
An interesting, thoughtful and thought-provoking album with a great (750-ish year old) story behind it.
The Baltic Crusade is out now