Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Helrunar - Sól (2011)

With a pair of solid if unimpressive black/folk offerings beneath their belts, Helrunar have here attempted to up their credentials with one of the more ambitious black metal projects of recent years, a double album known simply as Sól that features 90 minutes of highly refined studio production, versatile pacing and an oppressive, cold atmosphere that is somewhat rare in such a 'higher budget' sound. Granted, there is nothing really out of the ordinary, and the band are not oozing creativity, but the sheer wealth of conceptual content found here is likely to turn some heads, and I can proclaim with no doubt that this is thus far, the highlight of their decade old career.

Once the spoken word, ambient intro "Gefrierpunkt" parts, the band immediately attempts to conjure your attention with the huge hooks of "Kollapsar". It's almost a doom/black hybrid, Candlemass consumed in rasping, but it gets the job done before it shifts into a less attentive, driving blast beat. "Unter dem Gletscher" envelops a single, repeated chord with glints of atmospheric melody, crashing cymbals before it shifts into a somber dirge, then a slow and steady momentum of writhing, Norse bathed riffing which is quite hooky. Other cautious monoliths on the first disc include "Nebelspinne" and "Tiefer Als Der Tag", where "Ende 1.3" is a faster and more psychological piece, "Praeludium Eclipsis" another doom laden foray, this time instrumental, and "Nur Fragmente..." a clean guitar instrumental with some minor ambiance.

The second disc begins with the crushing chords and narration of another intro, and then a similar construction of its metal content, so there's not much variation separating the two. Still, "Aschevolk" and the thundering, frost-tinge of "Die Mühle" make for a nice set-up, and here dwell the longer compositions, two of which, "Rattenkönig" and the title track are nearly 11 minutes in length. The former is moody, sparse and slowly accumulating like the onset of winter, while the latter feels like a drawn out, more finely produced ode to a more melodic later period Bathory, sans the vocal stylings of a Quorthon. But my favorite piece here is the more Viking feel of "Moorgänger", which creates a similar addictive power to "Unter dem Gletscher" from the first disc. In all, disc two might be the more effective and metallic of the two. After the intro, only the guitar instrumental "Lichtmess" interferes with the steady desolation.

There are periods of Sól which become intermittently dull while you're waiting for the next huge hook to arrive and transport you to the band's frigid winter-bathed landscapes, but taken in doses of 10-20 minutes, it does deliver. Certainly, the songwriting concepts have improved since the band's sophomore Baldr ok Íss, and the massive sound being produced is inescapable. There are a few underwhelming elements like Skald Draugir's vocals, a typical German black metal rasp, but I'll give the band credit for not choking up the album with choirs or femme vocals. As mentioned before, it's ambitious without breaking new ground, and that is largely felt in the actual quantity of content. 90 minutes of supreme writing would be tough on any band, and Helrunar don't exactly fill it out with breathtaking or even interesting content, but where it rocks, it rolls across the plain as if a tremor in the Earth were arriving to swallow us back into its womb.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]


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