I think everyone feels a little relief when a year comes to an end. I’m not quite sure why this is—considering that January 1st is just as busy as December 31st—but the phenomenon is real. Be it my real job or my fake one, there’s plenty to get done before the year’s end. Between grading and submitting them, there’s still the task of cataloging this year’s records and preparing them for the Season of Lists. And, when all the year-end obligations are met, a real sense of completion exists. With a sense of closure also comes a small window of peace and quiet, giving most people a chance to ramp back up to everyday life. Hell, the big releases won’t be out for some time. We might as well sit back and relax, right? Well, not if you’re the one slated to review the new Helheim record…
Just over a year ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Helheim‘s raunijaR; a record that proved Helheim were as close to slowing down as an eighteen-wheeler tearing downhill with no brakes. Interspersed throughout the band’s catalog, you’ll find sequel upon sequel to stories ranging back to 1995. And though raunijaR added its own flavor to these stories—even bringing a close to the Åsgards Fall tetralogy—the band has a lot of work to do if they hope to achieve ultimate closure. Similarly, 2017’s landawarijaR has a home in the Helheim microcosm—succeeding 2011’s Heiðindómr ok mótgangr. It’s these interlocking themes that make Helheim‘s universe so special. But, somehow, each release ties into another without any two albums sounding alike.
When the band’s horn-and-timpani era began with the EP-like raunijaR, I predicted the follow-up would be something to look out for. Even though we all know “assuming” makes a you-know-what out of you and me, I’ll be goddamned if I wasn’t right. raunijaR set out to mix things up, unleashing an absurd amount of horns and the tireless dedication needed to make every track a hit. But, I feel, landawarijaR is the record the band was trying to create. Though the horns are plentiful on landawarijaR, the record’s subtlety is its greatest weapon. Of all the tracks, closer “Enda-dagr” is perhaps the most bombastic. But right when the Celtic Frost-like brass seems like it may overwhelm the song, the Enslaved-like build dispels it with a conclusion bordering on RIITIIR‘s “Forsaken.” “Baklengs mot intet” shares the closer’s need for refined grandiosity. Picking up where opener “Ymr” left off, this charging epic shreds vocal chords and tears through black metal riffage like a rabid wolf. Well, that’s until the song maneuvers into a chorus of duetting cleans. One voice plays off another, building up to the climax, supplying one of the most addictive vocal arrangements on the album.
Yet, this is just one niche of the album. There are melodic atmospheres, slow-paced moods, and clean vocal harmonies like those found in “Rista blodørn.” There are the aggressive, beautiful, and in-your-face vocal attacks of “Synir af heidindomr,” and also a fuck-ton of impressive solo work on tracks like “Ymr,” “Synir,” and “Ouroboros.” But, no matter how incredible a song like “Synir af heidindomr” may be, “landawarijaR” remains the album’s masterpiece. This powerful cut catches you at the first chord and doesn’t let go for ten whole minutes. It opens with fast-paced, black metal tremolos before dissolving into melodic guitar licks that build and build; resulting in landawarijaR‘s best chorus. And, right when you think it couldn’t get any better, it concludes with the most effective clean guitar licks this side of Sólstafir. It’s one of the band’s greatest moments.
Helheim bring their A-game on landawarijaR. All raunijaR‘s shortcomings are addressed and that old-school spontaneity is in full swing. landawarijaR has peaks and valleys, vengeance and beauty, and a fluidity that makes it feel like one fifty-five minute song. Not to mention all the well-structured vocal arrangements (be it the band or the string of guest vocalists) that make this a superb listen. Though the sound and production continue to blend with modern-day Enslaved, landawarijaR is very much Helheim. With all the layers present on this cake, more than a few spins are necessary to fully absorb landawarijaR. But this album is remarkable and my favorite since 2010’s Åsgards Fall EP.