Helheim, borne from the cold, unforgiving climate of Bergen, Norway, and longtime weavers of dark tapestries, are set to release Rignir through hometown label Dark Essence on Friday, April 26.
Founded in 1992, and releasing their debut, Jormundgand, three years later, the band has never spent a longer span without a new album. That in mind, their resume has successfully stretched and merged several discrete genres, namely Black Metal, Death Metal, Folk Metal, and Progressive Metal, while consistently growing their sound and reaching between efforts. For Rignir, the founding duo of V’gandr on bass and vocals along with H’grimnir on vocals and guitars (shortened from Vanargandr and Hrimgrimnir, respectively), as well as early addition Hrymr on drums and percussion, is again ably complemented by Reichborn on guitar, for whom Rignir marks five releases and close to a dozen years with the band.
Taking strong guidance from the fall and winter weather in Bergen, the band described their thought process this way: “the darkness of nature … became a canvas where the pen drew words that rose from the depths of solemnity and alienation.” They took an additional step and decided to name each track on Rignir (“rain”) after the bleakest of weather events—hail, snow, ice, wind, and the harshness of winter in general.
Eight songs in total, the opening title-track evokes more of a traditional Folk feel—the vocals and lyrics form concrete rhythms that carry the guitar, bass, and drums, rather than the reverse—before the intrusion of modern-day sounds through electric guitar solos within the latter third. Later, “Halg” (roughly “hail”) uses a similar blueprint, setting a dark, solemn mood before traversing millennia and genres with a loud guitar riff that could easily be dropped into an Arena Rock anthem. Through broad skills both with composition and execution, Helheim are able to make these changes in tone, mood, and audience with subtle disruption and maximum effect.
Elsewhere, “Snjóva” (“snow”) and its sibling “Kaldr” (“cold”) employ different techniques: the former blends a percussive guitar riff into some able drumming from Hrymr, before veering off into a few rounds of clean, crisp, and thus “modern” guitar soloing, whereas the latter takes artful blast beats and composes a Black Metal adventure peppered with deep, brooding vocals and a central portion that borders on a monotone (but never monotonous) sermon.
The bombastic closer “Vetrarmegin” features guttural vocals that would have fit easily on early Mayhem or Darkthrone records, and the steady plodding rhythm of bass and drums creates a blank canvas for the occasional shrieks and dark choral vocals that pepper those grunts. The pace eventually slows to a near-crawl and some psychedelic vibes shuffle the album away.
The band seems to transcend time, as they employ both traditional instrumentation and modern convenience when transporting the listener to the lands and times of the Old Norse. True to this goal, the band digs deep into their Northern heritage, drawing inspiration from the Old Norse of their forefathers, specifically the “ljóðaháttr” style, one which uses brisk alliteration and a distinct combination of lines and lifts when composing sweeping epic narratives. At times, the vocals are more of a driving force to the pace and rhythm than any other instrument in the mix. The prominent presence of bass guitar throughout the album—it drags “Stormviðri” and others to glory—is a welcome change from the instrument’s usual place, far back in the recording and songwriting processes.
The intense attention to detail in recreating a world over five hundred years removed, and the craftsmanship with which the idea is executed, make for a strong, steady ride through the poems and tales of Old Norse. With Rignir, the band Helheim continues their unique view into the history of their land, their genre, and the world writ large. For these reasons and the strong, concise songwriting, Cryptic Rock gives Rignir 4 out of 5 star.