Helheim Raunijar 01I feel quite confident when I say that Helheim might be one of the most underrated Viking metal outfits on the planet. There weren’t too many Norwegian black-metal bands in the mid ’90s pushing the Viking sound as hard as these guys. And there sure-as-hell weren’t many bands incorporating trumpet and Jew’s harp in their compositions. Helheim have pushed upon the very boundaries of their genre with each release and built what can only be described as their own microcosmic world; one fenced off by their musical output and sustained by respect for both music and heritage. After twenty years of expanding and evolving, Helheim continue their tireless crusade with their eighth release, raunijaR. You never know what to expect from each Helheim release and raunijaR is no different. With that in mind, gear up for the final assault on 2015 and allow Helheim to put their war-thirsty skills to the test.

In a way, Helheim‘s discography is a continuing concept from one release to the next; one that is ever-evolving in sound and multi-part sagas. With 2015’s raunijaR, we actually bare witness to the conclusion of a couple of these sagas. For instance, opening track “Helheim 9” represents – obviously – the ninth installment of a journey that began with the 1999 EP, Terrorveldet. raunijaR also marks the conclusion of the must-have “Åsgards Fall” quadrilogy that began with the 2010 EP, Åsgards Fall. And in a fitting sort of way, raunijaR‘s five-track, forty-minute runtime gives it that “EP” feel as it pays respect to this classic, back-catalog lineage, while concluding it in fine fashion.

Mostly clean-guitar oriented, “Helheim 9” represents the first taste of what’s to come; most notably, the powerful, clean duets of original members V’gandr (bass/vocals) and H’grimnir (guitars/vocals). Though this album has some harsh rasps throughout, these lads have honed their angelic pipes for raunijaR and have introduced yet another weapon in their creative arsenal. They pursue these cleans, duets, and Viking-choirs throughout the album and execute them in grandest form on closer “Odr.” With a tasteful similarity to Ulver, the layered vocals build and build before the song finally submits to its violin/piano outro. Knowing full-well that this focus on cleaner vocals definitely stands out in comparison to previous albums, the fast-paced title track features a “coughing” and “hacking” segment (following a rather venomous vocal delivery), as if to hint at – and playfully mock – the new direction the band plans to take vocally.

Helheim Raunijar 02

Of all the tracks I was most excited for on raunijaR, “Åsgards Fall III” and “Åsgards Fall IV” were my most anticipated. I celebrate the band’s entire catalog but every time I rediscover “Åsgards Fall I” and “II,” I’m swept right off my feet. Opening with some gorgeous acoustic guitar licks (a la Brand New Sin), “III” transitions into heavy Bathory worship in the way of massive Viking choirs and a war-like determination further emphasized by the massive drums and horns engulfing the track. “IV” takes the reins and continues where “III” left off with more vocal duets, Bathory influences, and increased grandiosity. The first half of the track begins its build from the song’s opening drum work before dying off completely at the midway point. From here the climb begins again via reverberating riffs borrowed from the gentler side of Immortal and a conclusion jam-packed with guitar solos, Viking choirs, spoken-word segments, and a shitload of atmosphere. In the end, it’s great having the concept complete but “I” and “II” get the point across more effectively.

However, for all the love I have for this album, Herbrand Larsen’s master has a bit too much of an “Enslaved quality” and the compression is much too high for something itching for fuller dynamics. Furthermore, the band has really stepped beyond their comfort zone – if they truly have one – and not everything works. For how great they are, the “Åsgards Fall” pieces and “Odr” are a touch on the long side and many of the elements don’t completely mesh (in particular, the punkish vocal approach of the verses in “III” and the misplaced guitar-wankery toward the end of “IV”). These issues aside, the band continues to convince me of their greatness after two full decades, and raunijaR is just another page in that story.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Dark Essence 

  • Pimpolho

    I like this album a lot. It’s a shame Hellheim is so overlooked, they are one of my favorite uiking metal bands. Great review, Mr. doc.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Thanks very much!

      Agreed. There is always something great to find on each of their albums. And each album is just slightly different, giving you something new every time.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Overlooked by me for sure. Never heard of them. Listening to their back catalogue will hopefully be an early XMas present. The good doctor has turned me on to lots of good stuff — Horna, Leviathan, Bathory, Amestigon, and now this.

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        So many gems!!

  • Will Atheling

    I prefer Helheim to be underrated, not for the kyltnvss that might rub off on me as a listener, but for the fact that they don’t have to bloody care for any expectations. Great album, some of the vocal harmonies here are unbelievable for a “black metal” act. To add to the review, from what I heard this was planned to be an EP and expanded into an album, with all good and bad that comes from it – the best being that the next album is close on raunijaR’s heels.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I heard that as well. I has a very EP feel to it and I imagine the follow-up will be outstanding. I only point out that they’re underrated, but never want them to leave their trve vndergrovnd roots.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Solid-sounding release, never heard of the band until now. Definitely gonna look into their catalog. Great review, Doc!

    As a superfluous tidbit, is it strange that I literally have a made-up image, backstory, and voice for all of the staff at AMG? You are a surgeon with a hunch and ironically, a certification to be a practicing chiropractor. Steel is a retired veterinarian who claims to be a “vet from ‘Nam” but never went to ‘Nam, and has a beard that reaches his nipples.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      All of those descriptions are 100% accurate.

  • Diego Molero

    Can anyone please explain me what is DR? What it does to the music and what the numbers represent?

    • Dr. Scorpion

      Some body please enlighten his griym(m) soul.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      You can search the archives for “dynamic range” and see the articles explaining it. You can also do the same over at Metal-Fi. Between our two sites, there is a lot of information that will enlighten you :)

      • Diego Molero

        My first languaje isn´t english, is spanish, so i don´t even know what DR stands for. But yeah, I did what you say and learn a lot, I read like 15 articles and finally understand what it means. Thanks a lot Doc

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          No problem at all. Glad you found some good articles. Many people don’t know what DR is (and that’s the problem), so I’m glad we snagged another one!

  • Hypnos Teovfla

    Not great indeed.