Let’s be honest; I’m as excited for Abbath as my son is about his new Optimus Prime Halloween costume. Ever since hearing about Abbath’s new venture, my fellow scalpel wielder (Dr. Fisting) and I have yet to cease our musings of grand times spent with Immortal and the one-hit-wonder that is I. It’s bad enough that I‘s Between Two Worlds already gets a shitload of playtime on the Grier IPod, but lately it has been even worse [I worship that damn album. – Steel Druhm]. So, what the hell does this have to do with anything? Well, as per usual, the eagle-eyed Madam X came across a promo that she just knew I’d love. Labelled with the “pagan black metal” stamp and coming from Naturmacht Productions (the parent of Enshine‘s Rain Without End Records), I knew for sure I would find something to enjoy on this Finnish duo’s debut. But I didn’t realize just how much I’d enjoy it.
Seconds into Havukruunu‘s Havulinnaan, it becomes quite clear that the raw, folky black metal sound I was expecting the band to lean heavily on was not the only thing present. Instead, I was stunned to find within the mix some uncontrollable gushings and love for all that is Immortal, I, and Viking-era Bathory (I know, it was quite the roundabout but I made the connection). Though it may be unfair to compare Havulinnaan to the mighty achievements of the aforementioned references, or use it as a buffer between All Shall Fall and the upcoming release from Mr. Crab-Walk, Havukruunu‘s debut is just good enough that I don’t feel so bad.
Havulinnaan kicks things off with “Talven mustat tuulet;” a shameless example of a band romping in the hay to the crash and thrash of Between Two Worlds. Without becoming a copycat, the precise songwriting results in a delivery both nostalgic and oh so satisfying. “Talven mustat tuulet” is about as fun as it gets for openers and it does a fine job of setting the tone for the rest of the album. But don’t be fooled, there’s more to this album than the bent-over ravaging of I riffs. While the overtone of the album is the bastardized old-school black metal approach of Bathory and current Darkthrone, the undertone is very much submersed in the sucking void of memorable riffs, powerful Viking choruses, and an expansive pagan air of melody and folk.
“Rautalintu” is filled to the brim with a pure abundance of catchy folk leads picked and pounded by the band’s guitarist/drummer Stefan. These leads are neither unfounded guitar melodies nor frenetic solo work. Instead, they are the undeniable power permeating through the song and presenting an organic and simplistic ambiance. But “Rautalintu” is only the beginning. “Aavevalo” molds every element from “Rautalintu” and “Talven mustat tuulet” into a standout track full of chugging I riffage and swooning choruses reminiscent of Quorthon’s Viking-era. Though bassist/vocalist Humö predominately employs a black-metal rasp, he unleashes fist-pumping cleans and urgent screams as convincing as the ones coming from the neighborhood sanitarium. “Uni Kuin Unho” crowns these emotions with further epicness, some Vintersorg-like vocals, and a stickability equivalent to holiday hymns. If it wasn’t for the closer, “Uni Kuin Unho” would easily be my favorite track on the album.
“Havulinnaan” shuts the door on this album with an intro straight from the frozen halls of Darkthrone before pinching off a windpipe stinking of I and Bathory. The title track goes all out, delivering the folkiest of choruses, a headbangeable midsection, and some beautifully executed acoustic guitars to pin-up Havulinnaan‘s blackened flesh. Powerful stuff and an originality that would have been lost if not for the raw – yet lively – production. But it is the songwriting that truly deserves thanks. With a focus on a simplistic, bare-bones approach, Havulinnaan doesn’t over-exert or come off pretentious. Havulinnaan displays characteristics both of uniqueness and “same-ole” that doesn’t distract, disappoint, or bore. While this Finnish duo aren’t out to break new ground, they do a damn-good job of convincing you that the road they follow is their own.