Folk and pagan metal seem to be the new melodic death these days, where every band with a fiddle or flute and a fondness for Renaissance Faires can produce “epic” songs of long-forgotten lore and jump on the bandwagon that trails behind genre leaders like Finntroll and Moonsorrow. After the recent whirlwind success of fellow Germans, Equilibrium, I had high hopes for Helfahrt and their third full-length album Drifa. Yes, the band’s name reads “Hell Fart” in English (though the english translation is roughly “the journey to Helheim and the land of the dead”). Now that that’s out of the way we can continue. You in the back, stop sniggering!
From the get-go, Drifa is typical folk fare, with an acoustic guitar leading into an angular, distorted riff. Unfortunately, by the end of this first track you have heard almost every trick in Helfahrt‘s book (I said, no laughing!). The band’s fondness for half-time riffs and traditional black metal tremolo guitars over blast beats is all too apparent, and there is certainly no reinvention of the wheel going on here.
This trend continues over the next two tracks, with a predictable formula of tremolo riffs driven by the kick drum breaking into half time and then rising up again. Unfortunately these dynamics (or lack thereof) are not enough to keep a listener’s attention and by the fourth song I was bored. Thankfully “Abscheid” mixes it up a little bit with a short, but sweet, acoustic piece that prominenty features a mouth harp. The twanging and folkish chanting is pleasant and until now is the only real indication beyond lyrics that you are listening to a folk inspired album.
After “Abscheid” though, I tuned out. There is just not enough going on in the songs to grab my attention. Everything about the tracks is of a good quality; the production is solid, the vocals are strong (remining me a bit of Thyrfing in places) and the instruments cannot be faulted. There is, it should be noted, a distinct lack of guitar showmanship which I feel hurts the album a little since a good, strong solo to look forward to in a song might actually redeem the blur that makes up the remaining tracks. There is a brief moment that made me lift up my head and start nodding it a little with “Zu Asche”, that features a very catchy hook and conjures all the usual images of flagon waving and brave warriors (despite the absence of additional folkish instrumentation), even if the formula from the past six songs is followed by-the-book.
Sadly, Helfahrt feels like metal-by-numbers. Drifa is an acceptable metal album, there is no doubt about it, but there are hundreds of other bands that sound exactly like it and who quite possibly mix it up a little more. The band has not done anything horribly wrong in their latest offering – and fans of pagan-tinged black metal would do well to at least give them a chance – but they do not seem to have done much right either. There is nothing wrong with creating a formula and sticking to it, which is certainly the feeling that I get from Drifa; however Helfahrt‘s case it is a formula that is being done much more effectively by so many other bands. The pagan metal market is almost as saturated as death metal and black metal at the moment and it takes something special to stand out from the crowd; unfortunately Helfahrt does not seem to possess what their style so desperately needs.