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Christian viking metal. How about that?! - 96%

SvalbardDave, January 25th, 2008

For those who don't know very much Norwegian, the notion that Arvinger is a Christian group may totally escape you. For those who are intimately familiar with the viking aspect of black metal, you would feel very comfortable with the music on this release, if not the lyrics.

First off, Helgards Fall is one of the most poorly-produced official releases I've ever heard. Tape demo releases don't count, since they're neither produced nor officially releases. This recording sounds like either they patched it through some medium that only handles mono sound, or they left one of the patchcords unplugged, or something along that line. It was released by the band itself, not on any known record label.

That being said, their music-writing talent is astounding. Right from the first track opener, "Ut fra havn", assaulting you with blastbeats for just a few bars, but then moving into a very crunchy riff segment in the staple 6/8 time signature for black metal. Now, if only this album was produced better, you'd be able to hear this in all its glory. It's imperative to have excellent listening skills to pick up on it in its present form, but it is in fact there. The song is only four-and-a-half minutes long, but it goes through many segment changes in this time period. In fact, this is something placed amply throughout the entire recording. You'd almost have to consider it "Christian progressive viking metal." One of the other highlights of this opening track is the use of chomatic key changes in the black-metal-style chord strumming. By this I mean that they jump to chords not in the same key, but another key either a wholetone or halftone in difference. This is something I have not found to be common in any other black metal band that I've heard up to now.

The second track is equally interesting, the nearly-seven-minute "I Skogens Mørke", which, without knowing for sure, may mean "In the Dark Forest" or something like that. It has a magnificently mysterious intro, with subtle guitars on one end, but in the high registers the effect of what might be wind chimes, making a very impressive soundscape. Rounding out the vision is the drumwork, which consists of tympanies in somewhat of a marching fashion. Again, hearing this makes you desperately long for better production. Additionally, the changes come quickly into the next part of the song by way of violins. The third segment is ushered in by a style of octave arpeggiating, a style not unlike something Alex Lifeson would've done in the early Rush days (listen to "Cygnus X-1" for a good idea). More changes come for this awesome tune, making it a very exciting number to listen to, regardless of the production.

By the third or fourth track, with dedicated listening, you generally forget that the production on this album is total crap. You are taken in by the music and your ears have learned to compensate for the lack of depth in the sound recording. The third song, "Hyllest", is the first that features the female guest vocalists, Elsie Myrland and Lillian Eilevstjonn. The vocals are clean and steady, not operatic, soprano voices. The song also features ample organ-style synthwork by the guest keyplayer, Ronny Tegner, as well as more tympanic drumming to the finale.

The fourth song, "Mørkets Dal", is another one that features a less-extreme blastbeat introduction, moving through several different themes, one of which is a predominantly American 80s metal theme that hits clost to the two-minute mark. The only drawback this tune has is that you have no idea that it's an instrumental until at least halfway through. The themes change so many times that you aren't really stuck on any of them. You are left without any one main theme by which to identify the piece. This isn't to say that it is musically weaker than the other tracks. By no means! Instead it's more of a case for the idea of Arvinger being a progressive viking metal band.

The fifth track, "Tapre Krigere" is perhaps the most well-rounded on the album. It features very attractive passages, both death vocals and clean vocals, some extremely sweet changes from an epic black metal style to a serene halfway-clean chord melody and back again. The only drawback I can think of to it is that it's too short, at under four minutes long.

One other big highlight on this album is "Kongsarven", heavily laden with some really tight, homogenous changes among many themes and across different time signatures, some occasional blastbeats that come out very clear and not drowned out by any other instrument or voice. The short tune ends with a very sweet keyboard epilogue which, in my opinion can be a theme unto itself, but doesn't last long enough.

The album finishes with "Endetiden", opening with a very dreamy soundscape of tranquil keyboards, before accosting you thirty seconds later with the main guitar theme for the track. It is not such an extreme contrast that the listener cannot prepare for. The tune is extremely competent in delivering the essence of Arvinger's style and musical abilities.

All in all, with nine tracks and about forty minutes, you would think that their music writing talent would've led them to record more often, but this is to date their only known recording, six years ago at that! They have recorded a few other songs since, which are available on their website but not yet associated with any specific project. On a side note, these other tracks from the website definitely sound much more well-produced!

The overall mixing on this album is very good. No instrument overpowers any other out of turn. There are times when this is appropriate and it appears that with the lack of production value, those occasions are very evident! This is a good thing, because you get a better feel for why it's important to make sure your levels are well-balanced.

Lyrically, I really can't say anything about it, but I can't understand why someone would have such an objection to the notion of Arvinger being Christian when their musicianship is so outstanding! I would definitely say that this album belongs on the "to-buy" list for any black metal fan. I give it a 96 out of 100.