September 24, 2018 Helrunar – Vanitas Vanitatvm (Album Review)
Coming from the Westphalia region of Germany, Helrunar play a strain of Black Metal concerned with paganistic themes outside the realm of Satanism. Having morphed into existence back in 2001, the band has maintained both an intellectual and a stylistically doom-tinged approach to their songwriting. A nearly two decade span of hard work has culminated in the release of Vanitas Vanitatvm, the seventh full-length album of Helrunar.
Due out on Friday, September 28, 2018 via Prophecy Productions (Lupus Lounge), the duo of Alsvartr (Sebastian Korkemeier) and Skald Draugin (Marcel Dreckmann) have been writing Helrunar music and lyrics since trimming down to a duo back in 2011. Shifting the focus of the band to darker, more somber themes and song styles, how will Vanitas Vanitatvm stack up against the dense and riff-laden works of their past?
The crushing “Saturnus” follows on from a classic strum of acoustic guitar, opening this treatise on savagery and atavism in the face of the Enlightenment of 13th to 17th century Europe. Attempting to capture the terror felt by the masses as science gradually began to supplant Christian mythology is the aim of this creation. The pounding blast of this opening song conveys these feelings. Carefully enunciated German, the hallmark of Skald Draugin, narrates well. Additionally, the band grasps dynamics, slowing the blast down at just the right time to build up tension.
An album highlight, “Lotophagoi” is Black Metal of the old school variety, but with timing changes and a repetitive vocal line that would make Rotting Christ proud. A triumphant set of flashpoint riffs underpins the guttural vocals. The velocity of this track leads into that of “Blutmond.” Helrunar offers delightfully frigid riffing and a robotic delivery to get under the skin of the listener. Skald Draugin’s vocals are as gravelly as that of any Death Metal vocalist. His German gives the proceedings that exotic flavor that so many fans of Heathen styled bands enjoy.
The sprawling “Da Brachen Aus Bose Blattern, am Menschen und am Vieh” displays a Helrunar that has not sounded quite this hungry since the early days. Amidst the bludgeoning, some rather contemplative soloing offsets the mood perfectly, showing continuing maturity on the part of these accomplished musicians.
Interestingly enough, the title-track is an instrumental, beginning with carefully wrought, gorgeously supple acoustic guitar which builds up to the appearance of distortion. Could Helrunar be capturing the zeitgeist of the lives about which the album’s theme revolves? The icy, hanging riff upon which the song ends gives way to the sharp sonic blade that is “In Eis Und Nacht.” Some Death Metal styling beefs up the song to great effect, while Skald Draugir’s vocals match the down-turned tempo.
Helrunar manage to retain their hunger and their dynamics through and through on this album. The music, however, is never allowed to get lost amidst a sustained barrage of changeless sounds. “Nachzehrer” lays a doom foundation before the narration of Skald Draugir takes over. Difficult to connect with for non-German speakers, the meter of a foreign language nonetheless manages to evoke a mood for the listener of gravity and collapse, of change and division.
Keeping up the sheer quality going on the album, Helrunar lay down “Als die Welt zur Nacht sich wandt” with supreme confidence. Another pit inducer, for fans of Black Metal it is a true storm of cleanly played but unfettered, unbridled darkness. Alsvartr and Skald Draugir throw in some acoustic loops from time to time which serve to create some amazing dynamics within the songs. Also a highlight, this one ends abruptly, giving way to the peculiar, mostly instrumental “Necropolis.”
Strings come into play on “Der Tag an dem das Meer seine Toten freigibt,” an outro of paranoia and tension pronounced so superbly as to create an even more brooding atmosphere than even the heaviest parts of the album. This is not a bad thing, as Helrunar musically attempts to achieve thinking as well as pure enjoyment out of its listeners.
In the world of Black and Pagan Metal, Helrunar has been and continues to be a force that no one should ignore. Vanitas Vanitatvm turns up the fury and the pace on its 2015 predecessor, Neiderkunfft, in the process managing to create one of the finer listens to be heard this year. Under appreciated and less known than they ought to be, with luck, this album will serve to raise awareness in the underground for the German freethinkers. Some bands follow, others lead. Helrunar fits in the latter category for sure, and Vanitas Vanitatvm is proof positive of that. That is why CrypticRock gives this album 4.5 out of 5 stars.