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Helrunar… Yeah, I’m not gonna try to hide the fact that I love this band. They belong to the category of black metal bands, which I like most – I mean bands, which play that kind of music with heart and passion and do so, using many atmospheric meanings, not necessarily focusing on the primeval aspects, but rather trying to get out its essence, its true feeling. And do so by playing their music unconventionally, but still in epic, heathen, atmospheric, but savage and furious ways. With all their previous recordings Helrunar gained for me a status of amazingly talented band, one whose music is to be listened to and contemplated, not just played for the fun of it… It is that tension in their music, amazing riffs, great acoustic passages and raspy vocals – all great ingredients, which made such LPs as “Baldr Ok Iss” and “Frostnacht” so successful. For me, if you ask, there’s Ulver’s “Bergtatt”, Satyricon’s early LPs, then maybe two or three another albums like Taake’s “Hordalands Doedskvad”… and then there’s Helrunar. So, after “Baldr Ok Iss” was released I was truly looking forward to hear some more stuff from those Germans and that finally came in the beginning of 2011, when “Sól” album was announced. It turned out that it’s a double album – and to be honest I didn’t know what to think about that. From one hand it must have been a proof that Helrunar was extremely busy and found so many great ideas and songs that they had to put out a double album. And that’s fine for me; I will never have enough of great music, especially from this band! But some hesitation came when it turned out that both parts of “Sól” will be sold separately. One under the title “Sól I - Der Dorn im Nebel” and another one as “Sól II - Zweige der Erinnerung”. Hmm, this is shit. I mean obviously every fan would never consider buying just one of these two CDs; he’ll need to have both, but to sell them separately – especially as, let’s make it clear, Lupus Lounge releases belong to the most expensive stuff out there! – is a bit of crossing the line. It’s like buying a roast dinner, for which you need to pay extra if you wanna have some potatoes and gravy. You cannot have just a roast meat, you need everything. The same is here; you need both parts, but having both parts of “Sól” released separate was just a fucked up decision. Obviously there’s also a diehard version of this album, with both CDs together, with an art book, all limited to 1000 copies… but I’ve never seen one of those anywhere and probably that version was expensive as hell. So, they made us pay a double price for one album, but luckily Helrunar is kind of band, which is worth the money; even if I would prefer this to be sold under one special price.
Both parts of “Sól” come in nice looking digipacks. The artwork in each differs, but each is equally impressing. I can understand why they have also released it as an art book, really, the whole layout plus those photos, which have been used for “Sól” are nothing less, but a real art. I’m not gonna reveal all details of it, you better just buy these albums and look / judge them by yourself, but I can promise you that this looks truly impressive. The atmosphere of these photos is just as cold and disturbing as it is stunning and obviously it fits the concept of the world after an ice age perfectly. Sadly again all the lyrics have been written in German – what is not a problem in itself, as it is a great part of Helrunar style and I love the way Marcel Dreckmann (a’ka Skald Draugir) shrieks his lyrics… German language fits here perfectly, but really some professional English translations would be perfect here. I tried to use a bit of google translate, but mostly it was difficult to understand and sometimes had completely no sense at all; this translating program just sucks.
When listening to “Sól” first I have noticed an amazingly crisp, powerful production of the album. I used to consider Grieghallen Studio as a place, where all the best black metal productions were done (vide Taake’s “Hordalands Doedskvad…” LP), but what Helrunar achieved at Klangschmiede Studio E is a superb sound quality. So powerful, so energetic, so clear, but still savage and raw. It is a perfect combination for such music and I dare to say that with different sound, “Sól” wouldn’t be as good. The drums are like thunders; the guitars have a powerful, great tone and are sharp like fuckin axes. The band sounds amazingly well whether they play fast and aggressively or perform the acoustic passages… It is flawless all the time. Sure, it resemblances the recordings of Secrets of the Moon, but since I can call myself a huge fan of both bands, I have no problem about that.
Musically I guess “Sól” will speak in the language already familiar to all those, who’ve been mutilating their skin when listening to “Baldr Ok Iss” and “Frostnacht”. Helrunar has created style of their own years ago and luckily they don’t feel like changing it too much yet. In many ways though “Sól” seems to be more uncompromising album that the previous ones. Again – and that for me is always the biggest strength of Helrunar music – a lot of accent has been putted on long, instrumental passages. The album is heavily guitar oriented; without keyboards or whatever, only some acoustic guitars will fill up the empty spaces when it is needed. Other than that Helrunar lets the listener to feel the power of RIFF and shows their great ability to paint the pictures / concept with the music, focusing mainly on those instrumental parts, which one can almost compare to some post metal, if you would ever bother. The music is deeply involving, from the start till its very last second; and during this time you’ll hear some exceptionally brilliant (black) metal, in such tracks as “Kollapsar”, “Nebelspinne” or “Ende 1.3” (speaking of “Sól” part 1) and “Aschevolk”, “Rattenkönig” and “Sól” (speaking of “Sól” part 2). Actually I must add that “Sól II - Zweige der Erinnerung” quite often crosses the lines of even more progressive black metal and thus the band may adrift away from their classic heathen black metal style here and there, but for me it never becomes dull and uninspiring. If I was picky, then I would say that “Sól I” made a bigger impression on me, but definitely “Sól II” is not Helrunar’s “Reload”, if you know what I mean (read: don’t treat the second album as the collection of outtakes!). And I also must admit that quite often I feel like Helrunar and Polish Furia have really a lot in common – and I love both bands equally.
Helrunar never fails to create that cold, inhuman atmosphere and never fails to deliver great, memorable, enormous riffs (splendid guitar work!). The music often erupts in your face, only to calm down later… and this dynamic in the music of those Germans, with huge, monumental songs and powerful production are things that would distinguish the phenomenon of “Sól” from all the mediocrity, which has been produced in the past years. I don’t know if “Sól” is a better album that that amazing “Baldr Ok Iss”, where Helrunar perfected their music 100%, but I would prefer not have to make the choice, as both albums are well worth having and being listened to. Definitely “Sól” was an ambitious, emotional project, in many ways it drags attention more than anything else I have heard this year and well… I cannot imagine a self respecting black metal fan not to obtain a copy of this double album. Definitely it will speak to all those, who find a lethal pleasure in the latest recordings of Helheim, Secrets of the Moon, some recent Satyricon, Dornenreich, Furia, as well as Celtic Frost’s “Monotheist”. For me Helrunar released another classic album (albums) and well, I can only recommend it to all those, who deserve that. Because the weak will not bother anyway.
Almost everything Prophecy Productions/Lupus Lounge touches turns into gold, at least in Germany it does. So did Helrunar gain a high profile reputation in their own country. Four years after “Baldr ok Íss”, Helrunar returns to the front line with a pretentious double release entitled “Sól”. Before “Sól” the Münster duo delivered two full lengths that sounded okay, but not outstanding. Now what about "Sól"? Is it as good or just as standard as the other releases? “Sól” beats both previous releases, that's for sure, but does not reach much further than mediocrity.
Let’s start with the good things. The whole package simply breaths professionalism. The artwork is stunning, the concept (about the world after an ice age) is well done, and Klangschmiede Studio pimped “Sól” like a tank! On “Sól I – Der Dorn in Nebel”, “Kollapsar” kicks in rather fast and the slow parts on “Unter Dem Gletscher” are devastating. Most the time Helrunar does not step on the gas pedal. It makes them sound like their labelmates Secrets of the Moon. Also, “Nebelspinne” sounds enormous by mixing both elements stated before. Helrunar surely is the best class student when it comes to crossbreeding doom and black metal.
The second disc, “Sól II – Zweige der Erinerung”, is just like…the first part, again with slow and doom-laden songs mixed with (less) faster black metal parts. “Aschevolk” and “Rattenköning” stand out here. The second part is slower than the first, and that’s the bad thing. Well yeah, more or less. Altogether both parts last about 90 minutes. That’s simply too much. A double album may sound pretentious, but living up to the expectations of keeping it all interesting is hard. Boredom lurks around the corner when doing the full “Sól” cycle in one run. When Esoteric releases a double album, you go into a trance, so it is possible. Helrunar should have left out the B-parts and should have stuck to only one album. Of course, the Germans are thrilled about “Sól”, but I doubt whether Helrunar has the same reputation when coming from another country. Surely “Sól” is good, but definitely not outstanding as many people tend to say.
Superfluous. There isn't a better word in the English language to describe Helrunar's latest full-length, Sól. In fact, this album goes well beyond anything that even the most patient fan of metal would catagorize as being full in length. This is an overabundance of black metal. If Wal-Mart had a black metal end cap in their music section, this baby would be featured in a classic buy-four-get-one-free special. It's not the 90+ minute length of the album that makes it so perturbing, but rather the fact that seven of the fifteen songs are eight or more minutes when they absolutely do not need to be. Now that all of the important mathematical equations are out of the way, you may proceed to the next paragraph sans a nifty transition sentence.
Although abnormally and unnecessarily long, Sól is definitely more exciting than your standard, run-of-the-mill black metal album. Initially, it is the unique blend of super raw instrumentation and abnormally clean production values that makes the album so sneakily intriguing. To some, the production may actually sound flawless, especially during the shorter interludes. However, it is this particular journalist's opinion that all black metal could use a little bit of gruffness from time to time. This would have given Helrunar a bit of leeway in terms of the lack of "umph" in Skald Draugir's wailing vocals. It could have also added a bit of spontaneity to some of the guitar tones that helped make some of last year's releases (Sorgeldom's Inner Receivings and Jumalhämärä's Resignaatio to name a few) so spectacular. Although the constant ringings of eerie guitar notes are far from being compositional platitudes, their monotony will slowly but surely begin to vex the listener. Interestingly enough, it's the 3-minute-long tracks such as "Praeludium Eclipsis" that show the side of the band many have grown to love. In fact, every track contains a few great riffs and practically flawless drumming; but Helrunar simply carries its song segments on for too long before making a successful transition. Occasionally, the delivery of the transition comes at the right place, but then it is ruined by some strange minimilist interlude-within-a-song, which becomes equally if not more frustrating. "Unter dem Gletscher," "Tiefer als der Tag," "Aschefolk," "Moorgänger," "Rattenkönig" and the title track "Sól," which is consequently the album's best track if you manage to reach it, all contain examples of Sól's aforementioned follies.
There should be no doubt that the hearts of everyone who helped record, master and produce this album were in the right places. The haphazardness of many of today's releases may be more painful to a creative German songwriter than anyone else. Even the progressive and experimental innovations of Richard Wagner were carefully worked and re-worked into his music until he found them to be perfect; but this time it was done to a fault. And speaking of German, don't be bothered if you can't understand the contrived ramblings that attempt to carry the listener through the album -- it's probably more intriguing if the listener doesn't understand the language in this case. Perhaps if Sól were stripped down to about half its length, the album would be enjoyable. Either way, if you're still not convinced that Helrunar has only offered up large amounts of fluff this time around, you can't say that your purchase came without a disclaimer. Perhaps fluff is too extreme a word in this instance...instead, let's go with scrap metal.
Originally written for MetalReview.com
With a pair of solid if unimpressive black/folk offerings beneath their belts, Helrunar have here attempted to up their credentials with one of the more ambitious black metal projects of recent years, a double album known simply as Sól that features 90 minutes of highly refined studio production, versatile pacing and an oppressive, cold atmosphere that is somewhat rare in such a 'higher budget' sound. Granted, there is nothing really out of the ordinary, and the band are not oozing creativity, but the sheer wealth of conceptual content found here is likely to turn some heads, and I can proclaim with no doubt that this is thus far, the highlight of their decade old career.
Once the spoken word, ambient intro "Gefrierpunkt" parts, the band immediately attempts to conjure your attention with the huge hooks of "Kollapsar". It's almost a doom/black hybrid, Candlemass consumed in rasping, but it gets the job done before it shifts into a less attentive, driving blast beat. "Unter dem Gletscher" envelops a single, repeated chord with glints of atmospheric melody, crashing cymbals before it shifts into a somber dirge, then a slow and steady momentum of writhing, Norse bathed riffing which is quite hooky. Other cautious monoliths on the first disc include "Nebelspinne" and "Tiefer Als Der Tag", where "Ende 1.3" is a faster and more psychological piece, "Praeludium Eclipsis" another doom laden foray, this time instrumental, and "Nur Fragmente..." a clean guitar instrumental with some minor ambiance.
The second disc begins with the crushing chords and narration of another intro, and then a similar construction of its metal content, so there's not much variation separating the two. Still, "Aschevolk" and the thundering, frost-tinge of "Die Mühle" make for a nice set-up, and here dwell the longer compositions, two of which, "Rattenkönig" and the title track are nearly 11 minutes in length. The former is moody, sparse and slowly accumulating like the onset of winter, while the latter feels like a drawn out, more finely produced ode to a more melodic later period Bathory, sans the vocal stylings of a Quorthon. But my favorite piece here is the more Viking feel of "Moorgänger", which creates a similar addictive power to "Unter dem Gletscher" from the first disc. In all, disc two might be the more effective and metallic of the two. After the intro, only the guitar instrumental "Lichtmess" interferes with the steady desolation.
There are periods of Sól which become intermittently dull while you're waiting for the next huge hook to arrive and transport you to the band's frigid winter-bathed landscapes, but taken in doses of 10-20 minutes, it does deliver. Certainly, the songwriting concepts have improved since the band's sophomore Baldr ok Íss, and the massive sound being produced is inescapable. There are a few underwhelming elements like Skald Draugir's vocals, a typical German black metal rasp, but I'll give the band credit for not choking up the album with choirs or femme vocals. As mentioned before, it's ambitious without breaking new ground, and that is largely felt in the actual quantity of content. 90 minutes of supreme writing would be tough on any band, and Helrunar don't exactly fill it out with breathtaking or even interesting content, but where it rocks, it rolls across the plain as if a tremor in the Earth were arriving to swallow us back into its womb.