Heltekvad – Morgenrødens Helvedesherre Review

Heltekvad is a Danish three-piece fronted by Ole Luk of Afsky and Solbrud fame, flanked by two Afsky live musicians with a resume spanning Sunken and Morild. (Do I have your attention?) The band members’ atmospheric black metal repertoire has received its share of praise around these parts. But in contrast with the icy and evocative atmosphere of their past work, Heltekvad promises “heroic-sounding melodies” and “truly medieval soundscapes” on their debut Morgenrødens Helvedesherre. I approached the album with cautious optimism, buoyed by my love of their past accomplishments, tempered by my skepticism of supergroups, and clouded by uncertainty about how it’d sound.

Though Heltekvad bills itself as medieval black metal, the resemblance is tenuous. Morgenrødens Helvedesherre dabbles in medieval instrumentation but doesn’t transport me across time and space, lacking the soaring beauty of Obsequiae or the timelessness of Véhémence. Rather, Heltekvad’s sound straddles the high-energy melodic black metal of Stormkeep and the tremolo-laden folky atmosphere of Afsky, with second-wave riffs sprinkled on top. The closest Morgenrødens Helvedesherre comes to sounding medieval is in its use of triumphant guitar melodies, which would fit perfectly after a long day of slaying defenseless heathens. The album is driven by Luk’s harrowed screams and the guitarwork of Luk and Simon Skotte, who churn out a blend of high-speed melodies and traditional black metal riffs. Simon Frenning’s drumming also follows an age-old template, with blast beats galore. Luk and Skotte’s fantastic bass lines are where the band deviates most from its forebears, with creative melodies and a consistent bass-heavy mix allowing the low end to shine.

While Afsky’s MO was emotive beauty, Heltekvad’s strength is good-ol(de) meloblack fun. Many of the riffs on Morgenrødens Helvedesherre are both immediately engaging and memorable, like the take-no-prisoners opening of “Eder og hæder” and the main melody of “Ærbødig er den som sejrer.” Heltekvad has a special knack for writing riffs in which both guitars bring their A-game, like the frenetic harmonized leads of “Du skæbnesvangre stund” and the two melodies that coil almost imperceptibly around each other at the beginning of “Morgenrødens åbenbaring.” The powerful lead bass presence throughout the record bolsters this sonic depth, forging a trifecta with the guitars. Unlike most black metal, Morgenrødens Helvedesherre refuses to let the bass follow the guitars idly; highlights include the prominent bass backing on “Ærbødig er den som sejrer” and the stealthily infectious bass line of “Ved sværdets klinge skal du forgå.” The upshot is that much of the album is a shameless pleasure to listen to, with melodies that are both intelligently written and a tonne of fun.

Morgenrødens Helvedesherre falters when it strays from this course. The biggest culprit is Heltekvad’s unremarkable forays into traditional black metal. While Afsky excelled at weaving atmospheres out of simple tremolo riffs and blast beats, Heltekvad’s attempts fall flatter, like the milquetoast atmoblack of “Ved sværdets klinge skal du forgå” and “Fornægter din æt.” The slower sections of the album are also hit-or-miss, with the second half of “Eder og hæder” feeling particularly sluggish and repetitive. Afsky made simple repetition work by virtue of impressive melodic continuity, building soundscapes through subtle variations. In contrast, Heltekvad’s atmospheric ideas often feel more ill-conceived because of their lack of cohesion. The biggest exception is the closer “Døden står ved himmelens port,” which leads with a funereal string melody and transforms it into black metal glory, complete with medieval instrumentation and clanging swords to boot. But this level of cohesion is lacking elsewhere on the record, causing swaths of it to fall flat and diluting its quality.

Morgenrødens Helvedesherre is an entertaining melodic black metal debut, if not much more. To my surprise, Heltekvad struggles in the areas where its progenitors succeeded but crushes the fun factor. Morgenrødens Helvedesherre is unlikely to transport your mind back to the Middle Ages, have a lasting emotional impact, or make many year-end lists. But it’s a solid half-hour slab of glorious black metal melodies. If that doesn’t entice you, you’re dead to me. If it does, there are much worse places to turn.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Eisenwald Records
Websites: heltekvad.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Heltekvad
Releases Worldwide: March 25th, 2022

« »