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There are two clear cut camps that play so-called Viking black metal. There are the utter jokes that parade around on stage playing dress-up, like bad emulations of Conan extras: they are capable of eliciting almost no atmosphere and rely heavily on kitsch and gimmick. Flat musically, spiritually, and credibly. Meanwhile, there are the timeless, iron-hearted transplants truly from another era of human history. They are able to breakdown modern constraints with a blend of atavistic passion and gripping, soul-wrenching sounds. In one fell-swoop the listener is brought to another place where battle was intrinsic and a nobler way of life dictated existence. Romanticism is a far too simple outlook. What these select few do is inseparable from them – a direct line to a former lineage. At the extent of this furthest swinging extreme pendulum stands a very triumphant Helheim. Possibly Norway’s most under-appreciated black metal band, Helheim carry the old spirit high like a guiding torch and, all the while, crushing the skulls of fallen enemies along their path. They are somewhat of a hidden force, conspiring, and when we least expect it they release some of the most grandiose and ferocious Viking black metal to date. With 2010’s “Asgard’s Fall”, Helheim reached a pivotal career milestone that expanded vistas ahead to make room for what was to come and what lies beyond the boundaries of time.
When Bathory struck atavistic gold with Hammerheart it is doubtful that they were fully conscious of the paradigm shift that was underway. One of the harshest black metal bands at the time shifting towards a wholly unique sound that was impossible to pin down. Heavy metal influenced black metal? But there are moments of neoclassical auras? And not to mention specific sounds harkening to an ancient snapshot in time? Thus the heathen metal, and less desirable “Viking metal”, moniker was born. Quothorn laid the ground work of a sound for bands like Helheim to polish and inevitably perfect. Asgard’s Fall is a strict homage to Hammerheart, but all the while stretching every last rule in the Bathory song book. Helheim rarely abandon the black metal essence of the music and this is what sets them apart. The sheer violent nature of the songs is a constant reminder that this is a metal band first and foremost! Contrary to the aforementioned weekend warriors that make up the cellophane bulk of heathen metal, the entire atmosphere on this mini-album derives its strength from epic song writing, musicianship, and the authentic use of REAL instrumentation. One of the most admirable and distinguishing aspect is found in the use of real timpanis and horns, which were recorded live in the studio. These moments strike like a war-hammer! All the while, this call-to-arms is matched with a melodic driving storm of guitars: often acoustic, harsh, and virtuosic. How refreshing it is to hear a band put real effort into their art, while hordes of masqueraders simply write base material and hide their weakness with layers of fake and synthetic midi.
Asgards Fall functions as an announcement to the rest of the world that Helheim is no longer a band to overlook. Nodding to their past work while gazing to the future, the transitory release presents two epic tracks relaying the story of end times in Norse mythology. The fall of the heavenly Asgard will usher in Ragnarok and therefore the deaths of countless gods, the obliteration of the world as we know it, and ultimately a cleansing renewal. If ever there was such a time to revel in a need for rebirth it is now! A gaze out your urban window should suffice to cement that statement. These tracks are equal parts vicious, triumphant, and even sublime. There are moments of serenity which allow powerful clean voices to rise amid the black metal filth, adding to the victorious nature. Such beautiful and glory-filled tracks both celebrate the end of the modern squalor and in a way lament it: a bittersweet departure. Beyond this audio narrative lies a traditional sounding short instrumental – Jew’s harp and all. Following is a track from the subsequent 2011 album “Heiðindómr Ok Mótgangr” (equally as masterful – if not MORE) as a preview of what was to come. “Dualitet Og Ulver” tells of opposing forces of light and darkness, good and evil, and how they are nullified in the wolf, as they should be in man. Throat searing vocals feature highly courtesy of guest bellower Hoest from fellow Norwegian death-dealers Taake. Truly this is a song that would only be a mere glimpse of the record that would come. Finalizing this epic statement, Helheim re-record a track from their initiating album; this could only serve to remind of the importance of their early work and its intention, but also to present it in the aesthetic and approach of current Helheim.
Where others have fallen on this path Helheim remain triumphant. Sounds change, intentions change, and progression takes hold. Some have followed a more palatable approach and thus receive the “fame” they seek, but Helheim have evolved and proven true to themselves throughout. Imitators and jokes will flaunt their callow iterations of a culture and a religion, paying empty lip service to an image. However amid the flagrant multitude, Helheim stands proudly above, and Asgards Fall has been the declarative proof of this statement.
Helheim is one of the oldest band in the viking metal genre, along with Enslaved, and have released 6 albums so far. Still they have somehow never got the recognition they deserve. "Åsgards Fall" marks a new era of Helheim and is a solid and well written EP which I think might appeal to a wider audience than the previous albums.
The "Åsgards Fall" bit of the EP consists mainly of two parts and a small interlude. These songs still maintain the familiar Helheim sound that have been present on the last two albums, but it sounds somewhat more epic. There is a lot of small breaks and melodic parts and the odd time signatures is almost gone. "Åsgards Fall" is also in a way more atmospheric than anything I`ve heard from Helheim before, and not as hard hitting as earlier releases. Just listen to part II and let the music take you back 1000 years. At times it really reminds me of Bathory from their Hammerheart era, but that is indeed a good thing.
Helheim part VII is really just one minute of a mouth harp, sounding like something from a Wardruna album, before their new single "Dualitet og Ulver" kicks off. And I must say, this is by FAR the best I have ever heard from Helheim. It is more up-tempo and melodic, and it features brilliant guest vocals by the notorious Hoest from Taake. After hearing this song I can`t wait to get my hands on the new album!
The last song is a re-recording of their classic "Jernskogen" originally from the "Blod og Ild" album from 2000. It sounds even better this time around and is still a kick-ass song. I don`t really understand what it`s doing on this EP, but it certainly doesn`t drag "Åsgards fall" down at all.
All in all a great release from Norway`s maybe most underrated bands. I think this EP might be the start of Helheim`s big break, and Odin knows they deserve it!