I would like to take a second to convey some rather important information before I begin my review of Horna‘s Hengen Tulet: I’m a Horna fanboy if there ever was one. Though I may be biased in my uncontrollable fanboyism, I promise you an honest critique without gush, sap, cuddles, or clickbait.
Since their inception with Nazgul von Armageddon on vocals (preceding his departure to focus on Satanic Warmaster) to the two-man days of Corvus (vocals) and Shatraug (everything else), there isn’t an album in Horna‘s discography that I don’t enjoy. Be it the simple foundations of Kohti yhdeksän nousua, the near-perfection of Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne, the four-song hauntings of Ääniä yössä, the Bathory-worship of Sotahuuto, or the diverse Sanojesi äärelle double-album, each release gets its proper rotation in the Grier household. The diversity, songwriting, and consistency of Horna even make their plits and EPs worth the purchase (Pimeyden hehku is a must). But will this new era (which includes new-ish singer Spellgoth on vocals and a full lineup) see the band expand its reign or will they fall victim to the “Black Metal Rut of Death?”
Honestly, I was a little worried with 2013’s Askel lähempänä Saatanaa. That album was a real letdown for me. By no means is it “bad,” but it tended to focus on mid-paced material and lacked the memorability and melodic atmosphere so common to their sound. Also, the vocals don’t much work for me, but this is mainly due to the fact that Spellgoth’s vocals are quite different than what fans of Corvus are use to. Though his diversity between sharp Watain rasps, Niklas Kvarforth-like screams, and death-like grunts make for an interesting new take on Horna‘s sound, Corvus’ emotion and passion seemed to fit the music better. However, with a slight shift in the songwriting on Hengen Tulet, the vocals meld much better on this release (though, it will still take me time to get use to them). This is made clear on opener “Amadriada.” Spellgoth’s vocals match the Watain-esque foundations quite well. Unfortunately, the track isn’t particularly amazing, but it is much more in-your-face compared to the opener of Askel lähempänä Saatanaa.
It isn’t until “Nekromantia” that I finally get that overwhelming sense of “yep, this is Horna.” “Nekromantia” drops some crushing chugs that involuntarily cause your neck to snap and that sultry beast on your doorstep seduces you into allowing it permission to enter. Spellgoth adds his venom to the mix and does a damn good job staking his claim in the land of Horna. Follow-up, “Tämä maailma odottaa,” keeps the smoke billowing with a slick drum intro and riffs that deliver the kind of beltings that leave swelling welts on your ass [We talked about this. Report to HR. – Steel Administrator]. Toss in another sinister vocal performance and some bass-pummeling leads, and you’ve got a one-two punch that should please even the mildest of fanboys.
However, the real highlights of the album incorporate that true Horna riffage and emotion made famous on albums like Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne, Ääniä yössä, and Sanojesi äärelle. Not only do songs like “Puhdas” and “Ikuisuuden Kynnyksellä” deliver well-written Shatraug structures, the vocals also glow like shiny black stars in a sky of white. What I’ve always loved about the band comes through perfectly on these two tracks: passionate screams and croons, pummeling riffs that emit neck-breaking heaviness and depressive atmospheres, gritty bass, and perfectly rhythmic kit work. The former is simply crushing and has that signature “groove” that Shatraug has pinned to most his work in Horna. The latter has an unsettling atmosphere that borrows from the alternating ascending/descending tremolos of classic Dissection while maintaining the fervor – if you will – of the Horna of old. Hands-down, my favorite track of the album.
Interspersed between these “good” and “great” tracks sits standard outings that teeter between “decent” and “run-of-the-mill.” Though there are a couple of good tracks on the first-half, the back-end of Hengen Tulet (with “Puhdas,” “Ikuisuuden Kynnyksellä,” the heartbreaking “Hurmos,” and the interesting Vreid-inspired “Sodan Roihu”) flows a bit better than the front-end. The production actually has a “cleaner” sheen to it than Corvus-era releases; however, this allows Spellgoth’s reverberating rawness to standout a bit too much in the mix. This album doesn’t quite capture the glory of previous releases but the new lineup is showing signs of improvement and meshing. Regardless, the Grier kids are loving it, so who am I to take that away from them?