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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.