Well, we’re certainly off to a great start for black metal in this shiny new year. First we get a righteously good release from Belphegor and now the unheralded German unit Helrunar erupts from relative obscurity with a double album of masterfully grim, bleak blackness. Yep, you read that right, a DOUBLE ALBUM of massive black metal clocking in at ninety minutes! So, you might be asking, who do they think they are? How dare they release a double album? Well, the short answer is, they’re Helrunar and a whole lot more people are going to know them REAL soon because Sol is going to stamp them firmly on the black metal map.
I’ll admit having never heard of these gents although this is their third album. However, after one listen to Sol, I tracked down their earlier material and it seems Helrunar started as a standard black/folk metal unit. Those folksy ways are largely forsaken here, with a few acoustic interludes being the only holdover. In place of folk elements are copious Celtic Frost and doom/funeral doom influences and the result is a hardened, depressing, but at times beautiful black metal sound devoid of embellishments and fruitery. No fancy Dimmu Borgir orchestration, no Cradle of Filth theatrics, no keyboards whatsoever. This is old style, Norwegian-influenced blackness (nods to Enslaved, Darkthrone, even Burzum can be heard), excellently done and very well executed.
After a brief intro, “Kollapsar” introduces us to the new Helrunar style and their enormous guitar sound which dominates the landscape, commanding attention. Throughout Sol, these Germans alternate wildly between black metal guitar with jangled, frosty riffs and huge crushing doom riffs akin to Saint Vitus or old Celtic Frost/Hellhammer and the diversity keeps things fresh and interesting. Despite the seven to ten minute run time of many of the songs, most remain compelling because of the frequent change ups in approach. The vocals by Skald are appropriately creepy and croaking and at times he can even hit those tea kettle screams Dani Filth is famous for.
Helrunar explores many different moods and feelings across the vast length of Sol, generally succeeding in shifting dynamics enough to keep the listener off balance. There are more highlights than review space but the best include the excellent blastbeat frenetics of “Unter dem Gletscher” (very effective chanting over a blackened riff at 7:35), the Celtic Frosty pounding riffs on “Nebelspinne” that eventually morph over to discordant, eerie black riffs at 3:40, the lovingly morose funeral doom riff at 5:50 in “Rattenkonig” that builds and swells until it’s irresistible and unstoppable, and the odd, creepy percussion effects in “Moorganger.” The crowning moment of glory comes as the title track closes out this long metal marathon. It starts off with massive, grinding riffs that transition at 5:25 into beautifully mournful and emotional soloing that continues for the remainder of the song. The effect is monumental, epic, touching and worthy of the album price all by itself. Brilliant stuff.
The guitar work is the pillar that makes Sol a winner. Discordius, the only credited string bender, does himself proud with his varied fretwork, making this long, wild journey an enjoyable one. Kudos are also in store for whoever handled the production. Although sounding muchÂ cleaner and big budget than one might expect (with a full low-end sound), it still conveys the very real feeling of coldness and despair that black metal like this needs to be fully convincing. Also working more often than not, is the pacing from track to track.
Despite the huge upside here, there are a few minor complaints. While I wasn’t bothered by the lyrics being croaked in German, there’s a bit too much somber spoken word segments (also in German) and they disrupt the flow a bit. Additionally, a few of the longer tracks start to drag after a time, and you find yourself waiting for the next jump into black metal mayhem. However, these are small matters and overall, Sol is a stunning accomplishment on many levels.
While ninety minutes of ugly, black doom metal is a lot for anyone to endure, Sol makes it worthwhile and enjoyable. This is one of the rare black metal albums that hooks you in immediately and keeps you coming back and Helrunar deserves a lot of praise for their large ambition and the stellar results. I can’t seem to stop listening to it and it keeps revealing nuances every time. There’s a motherload of interesting and intriguing music to be discovered here so you best start digging in the Sol.