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Helvitismyrkr - 85%

KonradKantor, April 26th, 2012

There is nothing wrong with change, if it's done right. Arckanum's last album, Sviga Lae, was a prime example of change in the wrong direction, and was considered an underwhelming release by many fans of the Swedish, Chaos-Gnostic black metal project. It's perfectly understandable that the colossal, lurking shadow that was ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ would make Shamaatae's follow-up album seem mediocre by comparison. Well, two years and two albums have gone by since everyone's face was completely melted off by the album of eleven thorns, and Arckanum still seems to be at a crossroads. This time around, however, Shamaatae seems to be peering down the correct path, albeit shyly.

First, it's worth mentioning that Debemur Morti released a little-known, two-song Arckanum EP entitled Þyrmir on the night before All Hallow's Eve of 2009. Worth buying for the cover art alone, this little monster contained one additional track and a Pentagram cover. There's no surprise as to why it all but completely fell through the cracks, but it's an interesting artifact nontheless, given the avenue Shamaatae and SethlansTeitan (Dissection, Aborym) took with what at first seems to be a mere b-side of ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ. "Þyrmir" is a fucking monster, and not in the same kind of way that resembles any of the band's other works... until now. Helvítismyrkr, although not an extreme deviation from your standard Arckanum release (if there is such a thing), delivers some powerful punches packed with pummeling Þrash fucking mayhem.

That's not to say Helvítismyrkr feels like a full-on modernized version of Bathory's self-titled the way Ravencult's Morbid Blood does, but tracks like "Or Djupum" and "Nifldreki" are easily enough to make Joel Grind eat his heart out. Shamaatae treads down these new paths carefully, as the album kicks off much like Sviga Lae should have. Helvítismyrkr is meticulously mastered in a way that the shredding and blast beats don't overpower the nice humming of the bass. It's safe to say Arckanum has found optimal production values that allow the varying genres being played to sync well with one another without songs sounding as if they belong on separate albums.

The album catches a bit of a snag with "In Svarta," which is a pretty disappointing filler track that feels a bit like a failed and misplaced "Þá Kómu Niflstormum." "Svartr ok Þursligr" brings even more surprises to the table, as its conclusion adds some wonderful violin melodies (or viola, I can't be sure) that actually add to the song's emotional intensity. All the album's building up finally collides in "Sisoltinn," the album's fantastic closer, leaving much room for repeated spins and overall album growth. Helvítismyrkr is a wonderful new beginning for Shamaatae, and as future experimentation guides the artist through overgrown paths, listeners will be left with excitement, pleasure and longing as they follow along.

There's an overall sadness behind many of Shamaatae's riffs that uniquely embodies that which makes Arckanum such an interesting act to stand back and observe. In a genre where melodic emotion and intimidating ugliness have traditionally only flirted with one another -- whether it's emotion hiding from Mayhem's grotesque features in De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or the exact opposite, as is the case with many USBM bands -- Shamaatae constructs in a way that allows everything that embodies extreme music to confidently walk hand in hand. Such balances are rarities, and should definitely be both cherished and shared.

Originally written for MetalReview.com