Green Lung – This Heathen Land


English quintet, Green Lung, formed to explore the folklore, riffs and legends of Britain. Their career so far is one of continuous success. Though they only released their debut EP in 2018, they approach album number three as confident as ever with Nuclear Blast now behind them. Having won critical acclaim for 2021’s Black Harvest, they return here for a journey into occult Albion, armed with the mightiest Black Sabbath riffs. They might not be the most original of heavy metal artists, but few can conjure the ancient past as vividly as this London group.

This Heathen Land is a love letter to the rituals and deities of Britain (or Albion, to use the alternative name) that existed in secret at the height of the state’s infatuation with Christianity. As the prologue says at the beginning: “Beyond the cities and motorways of modern Britain, away from the influence of its Christian churches and cathedrals, lies another country, an older, stranger country…” Deciding which form of music this should take is less important than the impact of these stories. ‘The Forest Church’ is a good place to start. “Upon the moor and the mountainside / We meet before the dawn / From barren shores to the tumuli / The Old Religion lives on,” intones Tom Templar in a nasal low-register tenor voice. Behind him is a wall of sound that Candlemass fans will appreciate – huge riffs, thick bass, stimulating organs. Musically, Green Lung take us back to the 1970s to talk about England’s Middle Ages.

You’ll need to look past Green Lung’s obsession with Black Sabbath to reap the full listening benefits from This Heathen Land. That should not be too difficult. The pentatonic heroism of ‘Mountain Throne’ conjures the Pendle witches of seventeenth-century Lancashire for its anthemic celebration of the occult. There’s no doubt that Green Lung can write a memorable chorus. Their folk-tinged heavy metal is one that cries for a wizard’s cape. Templar’s ability to hit the highest notes in his tenor range will remind you of the great rock singers of Led Zeppelin’s epoch. Sometimes, he sounds like Ozzy Osbourne injected with the melodic uplift of Journey. Take out the monstrous guitar fuzz of ‘One for Sorrow’ and you’re not too far removed from Led Zeppelin III.

Green Lung thrive on stripping back their instrumentation in the opening verses of their songs before building to a chorus. It’s a technique as old as time itself, but it serves them well on ‘Song of the Stones’, where the mellifluous folk guitars and solemn percussion sound like the ceremonial rehearsal for a public execution. Here, Scott Black sees his opportunity to insert a Mark Knopfler-esque solo with blazing pitch bends, and he takes it with great alacrity. After all, this is an album for air guitar enthusiasts as much as folklorists. Listen to the extravagant Tony Iommi riffing in the intro to ‘The Ancient Ways’ – Green Lung take their guitar hooks as seriously as their dedication to recovering Britain’s heathen rituals.

The only criticism here is the band’s unwillingness to emancipate their music beyond 1971. Some of the songs sail too close to Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality album without offering anything new. ‘Hunters in the Sky’ looks like one of these candidates on first listen, but the spell-binding ritual drum rhythms and collective incantations in the middle eight take you from heavy metal heaven to the woodlands of Albion in a remarkable transition of scenery. This is the ultimate power of Green Lung. Their up-and-down dynamics and clarity of voice make for repeat listens.

Often, you’re not sure why a tried-and-tested formula can be so enchanting, but Green Lung are an exception. You know why the play button beckons. Their romantic conception of Britain comes to life through the power of storytelling. The fact that they gift-wrap it as a heavy metal opus is admirable.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 03/11/2023

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: The Forest Church, Mountain Throne, Song of the Stones

Suggested Further Listening: Black Sabbath – Vol. 4 (1972), Smoulder – Dream Quest Ends (2020), Candlemass – Sweet Evil Sun (2022)