As I sit here with Helheim‘s newest album, Rignir, two things occur to me. First, Helheim is the most-consistent band I know. Not only are all their albums good or great but they’ve been releasing a new one every 2-3 years since 1995. Second, I’ve been at AMG far longer than I realized. Having first reviewed this black/Viking metal band back in 2015, Rignir is now the third time I’ve penned some words on their music. Twenty-fifteen’s raunijaR saw the band perfecting the unique brand of Viking metal introduced to the world via the Åsgårds fall EP. raunijaR was big and bombastic, setting a new bar for the band. But the impeccable 2017 release, landawarijaR, raised it even higher. This album still floors me to this day and finds its way into my headphones on a semi-regular basis. But is there room for Helheim to go up from here? Is it even possible? Aren’t french-fried potatoes nothing more than “french fries?” And are french fries no more than “fries?” And why is it OK that “french” isn’t capitalized? Also, does Aquaman die at the end of Endgame. If so, thank the Lord.
All I can tell you is that its taken me weeks to get through Helheim‘s newest epic. This may be a common trait for some listeners—being that most Helheim discs encroach an hour in length, with songs teasing the 6-8 minute mark. But this has never been an issue for me. Both raunijaR and landawarijaR hit me right away and there was no question they were fantastic. But I’ve been struggling with Rignir; listening to it forward and backward and jumping around the tracklist for two full weeks. The front of the record is predictable, the end is a mixed bag, and the middle is strong. Everything, as one would expect, is solid, but this is the first time in a long time that I haven’t been fully engrossed in a Helheim release.
And, unfortunately, my doubts begin right away with the opener. It’s a gorgeous song with growing atmospheres, emotional guitar leads, and the band’s signature clean vocals. It works well but this approach to songwriting is now too predictable. Especially when it feels too much like what was done on the last two albums. Along with “Rignir,” “Vindarblástr” also suffers from this problem. It has a fantastic Sólstafirian vibe in its easy-going vocals and an addictive chorus that feels like Tom Warrior, but, unfortunately, it’s nothing more than “just there.”
“Kaldr,” like the opener, is an eight-minute piece that rises and falls, always building back up to its booming Viking chorus. But, unlike “Rignir,” this one begins with a rabid pace and rasps before stopping the horses dead in their tracks and finishing the back-half of the song at the similar, smooth walk of the opener. Closer “Vetrarmegin” is another rasp-oriented piece but, this time, it takes the less-traditional tremolo-picking black metal route and combines a slick, Abbath/Immortal-like guitar lick with a backing choir straight from Bathory‘s Blood Fire Death. Unfortunately, the song loses me with its spacey, psychedelic outro.
But there are plenty of moments that work on Rignir. The dark, whispery, swampy introduction to “Hagl” is an eyebrow raiser that builds before falling into acoustic guitar territories and the calming sounds of rain and thunder. It bides its time, moving with calculated precision to a final chorus of alternating cleans and rasps. Then it closes with some of the best leads and solos the band has ever written. But follow-up tracks, “Snjóva” and “Ísuð,” are the best of the bunch. The former has one of the most badass Helheim riffs ever written and combines it with unforgettable, unhinged vocals and a gorgeous Katatonia-like vocal transition. The latter track uses a similar vocal performance as “Snjóva” (though a little more Shining-like), combined with the acoustic guitar interludes and emotion-packed soloing of “Hagl.” All three songs are diverse and stunning. Especially stacked together as a 1-2-3 punch.
Along with the simple, yet gorgeous “Stormviðri,” the tracks above prove Rignir is another strong outing for Helheim. But, as I said before, this newest release doesn’t grab me like the previous two albums. Does that mean you should skip out on a new Helheim album? Never-the-fuck-ever. But, in comparison to the last two records, Rignir is the least diverse. The guitar leads and solos are breathtaking at times, but when Rignir aims to mix things up, it’s not all smooth going. If you’re a diehard, unyielding fan of this fantastic band, don’t let my words discourage you. Most of Rignir oughta wet your whistle.