Even though they began life as a Melodic Black Metal act back in 1996, it was not long before Austrian trio Dornenreich started to follow a similar route to the majority of their Norwegian contemporaries by opening their sound and style to many different musical influences.

Nowadays, with acoustic guitars and melodic violins dominating the proceedings, the band’s music is better described as Neofolk and it is this stage of their evolution that they first appeared on my radar. 2011’s “Flammentriebe” made a massive impression on me and it was on its strength that I decided to review their eighth studio album,“Freiheit”.

“Freiheit” is similar to its predecessor in terms of approach and vision: once again, electric guitars and aggressive vocals are almost completely abandoned in favour of intricate acoustic guitar note progressions and soulful violin melodies, while Jochen Stock’s whispering vocals work towards enhancing the dark/mournful themes that are audible throughout the album.

What the experience listener cannot fail but notice, however, is how much more organic, well-balanced and, dare I say, intelligent these eight compositions are. Though minimalistic by nature, Dornenreich’s new material holds many surprises – a direct result of the high levels of musicianship which characterise this artistically daring trio.

Coming across initially as a soothing melody-driven piece, “Im Ersten Aler Spiele” soon acquires a healthy pace and high levels of energy featuring volatile violin parts that bear influences from 70s Folk Rock legends City.

While “Von Kraft Und Wunsch Und Jungen Federn” further takes advantage of the healthy competition between acoustic guitars and violin, it is the far more eloquent and emotionally charged “Des Meeres Atmen” which steals the show, while the far more aggressive and structurally challenging “Das Licht Vertraut Der Nacht” presents one of the few instances where the electric guitar is used in this album.

Equally varied but more rhythmically coherent than its predecessor, “Aus Mut Gewirkt” betray influences from the likes of Skyclad, while the much more subtle “Im Fluss Die Flammen” attracts by both its simplicity and sheer emotional appeal.

The ‘battle’ between the acoustic guitar and the violin resumes anew in “Traumestraum”, while the eight minute opus “Blume Der Stille” provides an emotional ending to an album whose purpose is as much to question one’s emotional understanding of things as it is to entertain.

It was not so long ago that the members of Dornenreich decided to leave their Black Metal past behind and embark on a musical journey away from shrieking vocals, tremolo picking and blast beats.

Was this the right decision to make?

While the jury is still out on this one, the quality and emotional value of albums like “Freiheit” certainly strengthen the Austrians’ case.

If the information provided by Prophecy Productions, the band’s label, is correct it may be quite some time before we come across a new Dornenreich album, but do not fear – “Freiheit” has enough twists and turns to keep you well focused and entertained while the trio contemplates new ways of challenging themselves and their loyal fans.

Great stuff indeed.

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