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Berserker Fury - 85%

OakenHelm, May 11th, 2008

A very solid, very heavy slab of Viking metal from....New Jersey? Whatever, this slays. Helcaraxë often get compared to Amon Amarth, which is totally unfounded. While aesthetically they may be similar (both fall under the description of "Viking Death Metal," both have Tolkien-inspired names), musically they are not in the least. Helcaraxë is far more visceral, far heavier, and far more pure death metal. If Amon Amarth is the proud Viking warrior standing dutifully in his shield-wall, Helcaraxë is the berserker off to the side, gnawing on his shield and screaming obscenities, barely maintaining any sort of composure.

Almost every song, notwithstanding the 10-plus minute epic "Mjolnir," is a short, sharp burst of sheer intensity and rage. Although the album's intro might dissuade some that this is just another goofy viking-themed folk album, Helcaraxë show they aren't fucking around with "Revenge" immediately assailing your eadrums as soon as the clean guitar fades away. "Revenge" is a pretty good template for the rest of the album, actually. Short, sharp and to the point, and massively heavy. That main riff is so crushing! It's awesome. The growls are full and deep, and further my mental image of a crazed berserker rushing into battle. At first, it can be a bit much, as everything swirls into one mass of violence, but on repeated listens everything really begins to stand out and each song holds its own on individual merits; no small feat considering how short some of these songs are (With Fire & Steel is 35 seconds long!).

Of course, none of this prepares you for the massive "Mjolnir," taking up almost a quarter of this album's running time on its own. Opening with a simply massive doom riff, it soon escalates into the raging fury we're accustomed to from these fine folks. It stands out amidst all of its shorter brethren, but in all honesty I'm glad it's the only long song, even if it is a great one (especially the melodic part at around 6:30). Part of what makes this album great is its relative brevity; you get pummelled mercilessly and don't have a chance to breathe, and to be honest, this style can get repetitive after awhile.

Production is thick and very bassy, which greatly aids in the overall intense feeling; a trebly guitar just would not work here. The growls sound great; they're rich and full, and nice and upfront in the mix. Drums are adequate; half the time I don't really focus on them, but they don't detract from the music so I can't really complain there.

If Amon Amarth aren't heavy enough for you, Helcaraxë fit the role of Viking death metal perfectly. They've got everything their more famous peers do not (although I do love Amon Amarth) and show how you can make a 1-minute long song epic. This album is about as subtle as an axe to the jaw, and I love it.

A solid slab of aggressive Viking death metal - 90%

vorfeed, December 21st, 2007

This is the first album from Helcaraxe, an American band playing Viking-themed black metal.

The sound on this album is quite thick, with tons of jangling bass and deep, throaty vocals. Snarled and clean vocals also come in now and again. The lead guitar reminds me a bit of old Morbid Angel -- bizarre, nimble riffs collide with weird speed changes and breaks, then briefly coalesce into straightforward melodies. The drumming is equally varied, switching between total insanity and slow, stately passages with nary a second of hesitation.

This is one of the rare Viking & Tolkien themed albums that doesn't rely on stereotypical cliches to make its point. This band largely eschews the usual medieval/ren-faire sound, in favor of a dynamic, aggressive flow, heavy on the bass. That's a good thing, as the bass sound on this album is monstrous, simply excellent! Best of all, every song is pared down to the bare minimum. There's no "epic for epic's sake" tracks here -- almost all of the songs are under four minutes long, and about half of those end before the two minute mark (and they're actually good!) I have no idea how this band manages to make two minute tracks sound this epic. An example is "Chimera": short, swaggering, and snarling, this might be the best song ever written about lycanthropy. Hell, "With Fire and Steel" is even shorter (just 35 seconds long), and it's got actual song structure! Unbelievable. Then there's "Mjolnir", a ten-minute track marked by ambitious bass lines and an emotional vocal performance. The tempo changes are wonderful throughout. "Vision Quest" is the other long song on the album, at a little over five minutes. It strikes an interesting balance between melodic guitar lines and bludgeoning bass. The shouts during the middle section are especially great.

It was quite difficult to choose the best tracks from this album, and I don't think I've EVER picked a two-minute song as a standout track before. "Triumph & Revenge" has it all: unique sound, excellent songwriting, and top-notch musicianship. This is one of the best albums of 2007. Fans of Unleashed, Bifrost, Hades, and other complex Viking bands must hear this! Highly recommended.

Standout Tracks: "Litany of the False God", "Mjolnir", "Chimera"

Review by vorfeed: