Helfir – The Journey Review

It’s all about the journey, so the saying goes. For me, the journey from album discovery to album listening to album review is often the highlight of my week, regardless of the ultimate destination (read: rating). For Luca Mazzotta, the one man behind the one-man Helfir project, The Journey is his third release, and one that takes its title very seriously. Taking the helm on every instrument, real and programmed, Mazzotta’s ambitions and inspirations, including such names as Katatonia and Porcupine Tree, are unleashed over fifty minutes of honest, dark, and remarkably flexible music. Was this a journey worth taking on?

Billed as an act of “dark rock melodies and gothic metal,” The Journey takes on an interesting array of styles as it carries you from beginning to end over three segments. The album opens with “The Game,” a detached, cold, and largely electronic tune that features Mazzotta singing an emotionless tune with guitars providing only light accents in the chorus. By the end of the album, “Silent Path” offers dark, moody, doom-esque gothic metal with inventive riffing and simple but effective melodies that linger in the mind. Similar to The Ocean‘s Pelagial, The Journey creeps along, becoming darker, heavier, and grimmer bit by bit until it ends a different beast altogether than when it began. As a result, I think of Helfir as offering less “dark rock meets gothic metal” and more “dark rock and gothic metal at the same time, somehow.” To complicate a simple concept, this is sort of what I imagine would happen if a doom metal act like Swallow the Sun approached their craft the same way Crown of Autumn approaches melodeath – stripped to bare essentials and focusing more strongly on atmosphere than fancy instrument work.

So what do you get when you gracefully squish these influences together? In a single phrase, mood metal. Helfir creates gloomy soundscapes and seizes on dark, cold impulses while maintaining its minimalistic style. In the front half of the album, acoustic pieces like “In My Dream” are deeply affecting, while latter-half pieces like “Tied to the Ground” leave a sense of impending doom upon the listener. The transition across the runtime feels natural and expected, though it does unfortunately lead to the album being a little bit back-loaded. I don’t say that because I hate that which is not metal (if anything, I like it too much, given what I’m supposed to write about here), but simply because The Journey showcases Helfir as a stronger gothic/doom metal band than an atmospheric/dark rock project. Still, the album has some serious flow, and a capable production that gives the album grit, atmosphere, and actually lets you hear the bass, all of which are good things to have in music of any sort.

The problem, then, is that the music isn’t very engaging. It’s enjoyable, make no mistake, but like I said before, it’s mood music. The Journey is a bleak, cloudy day delivered through a decidedly detached style, and I think it winds up being a little much. The production, although clear, is also quiet, and while I’m certain the lack of immediacy is intentional, it also feels like a missed opportunity on songs like “No Escape,” a straightforward rocker with a memorable chorus that toes the line between metal and alternative rock. “The Past” features some really cool guitar work along the verses, but Mazzotta’s singing is flat, unemotional. Given how he performs elsewhere in The Journey, I believe that this too is an intentional choice, but I don’t think the juxtaposition works so well.

I won’t discount the possibility that I simply don’t “get” The Journey like Helfir intends. I like it, certainly, and appreciate that album is cohesive in a way that most albums just aren’t. The songwriting and overall approach just doesn’t grab me the way I feel that it should. I can see myself returning here for that aforementioned bleak, cloudy day, but perhaps not much more than that. Still, any project – and especially any one-man project – that can create an album that flows this well while capturing so many different styles is one worth keeping an eye on, so that is exactly what I will be doing.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: My Kingdom Music
Websites: helfir.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/helfirofficial
Released Worldwide: November 6th, 2020

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