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It was somewhat saddening to read recently that Hel, the long running pagan/black metal band from Germany, was calling it quits after nearly two decades of being together. No, there wasn't any big break up between members Hamar, Skaldir and Valdr, nope I'm assuming the band just decided they'd reach their logical conclusion after eighteen years. Sure, they weren't very prolific over that period, releasing just two demos, an EP and four full-length albums, but those albums in question are all above excellent in my honest opinion and their last, 'Das Atmen der Erde' is surely no different.
Hel was notably never a band to really sound the same over the years either. The first album 'Orloeg' displayed a sound similar to the first Falkenbach album, while 'Falland Vörandi' introduced more classical metal traits into their epic pagan/black sound, they took a side step with 'Tristheim' and went acoustic, whereas 'Das Atmen der Erde' is by far the bands most melodic and epic creation to date with excellent cleanly sung parts, folklore-ish aspects, progressive structures and still occasional nods to their earlier black metal days.
Since the majority of the album features cleanly sung vocals and more classical metal melodic structures it wouldn't be entirely off to say this record sounds like vintage Manilla Road channeled through a pagan/viking/black metal filter. There's also this undeniable sense of melancholy in a lot of the riffs and breathtaking solos, I haven't bothered to translate the lyrics or song titles, but I wouldn't be surprised if they elude to some sort of conclusion/ending. Either way the songs bring out a lot of feelings, everything ranging from that powerful majestic sense to melancholy, rage and really just something indescribable.
Its a bit trying to honestly pick favorites as the whole album really stands out without any blunders, but a song like 'So Wahrheit, Erkenne Mich' is so spot on to why I love this album; catchy and passionately sung clean vocals, a continually building and epic mood with brilliant almost Iron Maiden-ish instrumentation along the way and with that little hint of melancholy interwoven its just perfect. 'Jagdnacht' is one of the more bouncier folky songs on the record with a good mixture of clean and growled vocals, while the opener 'Wo Die Tannen Thronen' is just stunning in its despondent melodicism. The lengthy final song 'Neun Gestade Tiefer' is also notable with its mighty Bathory essence initially, but rips into blasting black metal riffs and pummeling drumming mid-way through taking the listener by surprise.
Being twelve songs long and over an hour in length its an enjoyable ride each and every time. Plus for a self released album the digipak is quite well done with tons of fantastic nature photos within the booklet as well as all the lyrics.
Again its unfortunate that the Hel legacy should end here, especially in a way where not many people will ever even hear the album, but perhaps the band prefers going out quietly rather than with a bang. 'Das Atmen der Erde' is definitely a worthy pagan/viking/black metal release for your collection as well as just another masterpiece from these Germans.
Originally published at Lunar Hypnosis: http://lunarhypnosis.blogspot.com/
It’s not a big secret, that it takes some time to produce products that are really qualatative and so it’s no big surprise either, that Hel always took their time to write and record their stuff. It took them five years to release their second record Falland Vörandi, after they made their debut with Orloeg in 1999. Another five years elapsed between the release of their third record Tristheim and Das Atmen der Erde. The waiting time was really worth it, as the tracks are brilliant and quite long: The twelve tracks fill over an hour of playing time, which is quite impressive.
The first song makes quite clear why the waiting time was this long, as the band found a quite new style without really missing the link to their roots. You could describe the new style as a mixture of Tristheim (which was fully acoustic) and Falland Vörandi (which featured some “classic” pagan/black metal), but that wouldn’t really hit the nail on the head either. It’s quite difficult to describe this new style entirely, as there are quite some elements involved. The majority of the tracks is defined through broad melodic passages, which remind me of classic heavy metal/rock stuff, really epic moments, some folklore stuff and clear vocals. It’s likely to be tempted to dream while listening to songs like Wo die Tannen thronen or Am Grunde der Unendlichkeit.
That doesn’t mean, that the band can’t play harder songs anymore, as there are some really fast, impelling and of course harsh passages as well, they just aren’t as frequent as the majestic and noble ones. Especially songs like Wagemut are standing out, as it features clear, spoken and even growled vocals. The main mood of the record is slightly melancholic, noble and somewhat yearning but nearly as difficult to describe as their new style in general. This mood is as present in the slow passages as it is in the faster and “darker” ones. It’s really difficult to find the right words to describe this record entirely, as it’s so multilayered but still focusing on a golden thread.
The complexity is featured by both, the songs itself and the record as a whole. The song structures are quite clear but still very varied and independent so that no song sounds like another, but there is still a certain link between them, so that you know that they belong together. Every song features another arc of suspense, they didn’t just used a standard formula to write their songs. Das Atmen der Erde isn’t just well written (I would say it’s the best written record of Hel so far!), it is really well played as well. Only the vocals are a bit strange from time to time, but that’s such a minimal flaw, that it isn’t really worth blabbing about. It’s impressive, that nearly every song advances to become an earworm and the few exceptions are still of a really high quality so that not a single song can be called “bad”.
It’s quite easy to find the right rating for a record like Das Atmen der Erde, but it’s really difficult to find the right words to describe what’s happening as everything you write seems to be off place and badly written in comparison. Nearly every song is of such a high quality, that it easily advances to become an earworm and can be played over and over again without a pause inbetween. Hel manage to use elements of pagan metal without becoming citchy in such a light-footed way that it’s really impressive! Although they are so skilled at writing and performing songs, they still down to earth, which is really sympathic! You like well done, great music? This is it!
Written for http://threnodies.com
HEL was founded in the year 1994 by Valdr and are one of the first German metal bands to deal with mythological themes in their lyrics and music. It’s been a long time since HEL have released their last album. Too long, I’d say. This is one of those bands that you can listen to over and over again and you will never get bored of them.
The album is a literary delight to describe, but almost impossible to do justice to in musical terms. When I seen the teaser for the new album, “Das Atmen der Erde”, I was extremely excited. Indeed, extremely. The album begins with a slow song, but it’s a nice vocal melody that sticks to your head immediately. It is clear from the first song why they actually needed so long to bring this record out. The band put a lot of energy into this release, their best release so far, in my opinion. This record is mostly covered by clean vocals, but don’t be afraid, there are also growls. The song structure is clear and completely independent without having many similarities between the songs. The production is clear as well. Good job!
At some moments the album gives you a slightly melancholic feeling. HEL also added some new elements that I would describe as rock and heavy metal influences. If we speak about influences, I can say that the legendary Bathory influenced them a lot as well. What remind me of Bathory are the backing vocals and choirs. An excellent example can be heard in the song “Wanderer im Nebelmeer”. Very nice!
The song “Am Grunde der Unendlichkeit” starts with an acoustic guitar and in the middle of the melody, almost from nowhere, mouth harp appears. This song contains clean vocals only, which fits perfectly with the guitar melody throughout the song. What stuck to my ear is the sudden change of pace in the last song, “Neun Gestade Tiefer”, when the band blasts your mind with black metal riffs and blast beats. To be honest, this album contains highlights only. It couldn’t get better than this.
Lyrically, most of the songs deal with nature, spirits, and natural elements – fire, water, air, and earth. The air occurs as wind, as breathing of earth in the song “Eroberer”. Fire appears as glow and water as rain and mist in “Wanderer im Nebelmeer”. The songs go through a change from light to dark. Some parts are influenced by Norse mythology and some parts remind me of a long bygone battle. Images of nature and forgotten times appearing in one’s mind’s eye. Beyond the nature-touched songs, the lyrics speak a secret language, for example, like in the monologue of “Wagemut”. Other lyrics tell about time, as in “Komm Zurück” and “Am Grunde der Unendlichkeit”. Interpreting the lyrics is up to anyone’s own.
I can’t point to any song as my favourite on this release. The whole album is a favourite.
You can’t get enough of this album – when it’s over you still want more and more. “Das Atmen der Erde” is a musical masterpiece with infinite replay value. Rarely can so much conviction and passion be heard throughout an entire full-length offering. If you have even a drop of relation with pagan metal or good music and art, this album will become a timeless treasure to your ears and mind.
Originally written for www.northwind-promotion.org