Helga
Wrapped in Mist

No one here needs me to tell you, but I’m gonna do it anyway – times is tough! As such, I recently took up a weekend gig to help make ends meet and, after a nearly decade hiatus, rejoined the food service and hospitality industry (bear with me I promise there’s a point to all this). Again, I’m sure I don’t really need to be the one to tell you that it’s not an industry for the faint of heart or weak in body, which makes it all the more hilarious and ridiculous that I, nearing 40 and in probably the worst shape of my life, should decide to do this to myself. That said, I felt fairly confident I could rely on my past experience to recall some tips and tricks to help get me into the right headspace, to get the right juices flowing to tackle the chaotic, fast-paced and, more often than not, cynical and sarcastic world of restaurant operations.

But here’s the thing – all my prior experience was working in the kitchen, on the line. To prepare for that, it felt totally appropriate to psych myself up with the most balls-to-the-wall shit I could throw on my car stereo on the way to work. For me, it was a steady rotation including the likes of Anaal Nathrakh, City-era Strapping Young Lad and Mike DiSalvo-era Cryptopsy (don’t come after me, DiSalvo’s Mack truck delivery was exactly what I needed for these occasions). But now? I’m working front-of-house, baby. I have to talk to and serve actual people, and not just the typical miscreant psychopaths that work in a kitchen (I say that with every bit of love and respect). I can’t come barreling in hopped up on Cephalic Carnage like a fucking lunatic. I can’t come across like an unhinged creep in the middle of his villain origin story. I have to smile! The problem is, I still need something to help give me that extra juice, while keeping me in a more positive, even tranquil and measured headspace. Something with the right focused energy to generate both adrenaline and serotonin.

As I’m sure you imagined, this all brings me here to this international amalgamation, Helga, and their brand of progressive, folk-inspired and (at the risk of generating automatic jeers) often post-pop-minded metal not totally unfamiliar to fans of acts like Sylvaine, Darkher, or even dark pop sirens like Kate Bush or Weyes Blood. Led by the extremely talented, charismatic voice of Swedish front woman Helga Gabriel, Wrapped in Mist offers the sort of thoughtful, engaging journey that dances the fine line between aggression and serenity, the earth-bound and ethereal with the balance and grace of a ballerina.

And it takes every bit of the ballerina’s flexibility and equilibrium to pull off an album as varied and adventurous as Wrapped in Mist plays out over its 10 tracks. No one song really fully encapsulates everything Helga are throwing at the listener, every passage seeming to possess its own distinct character. One the one hand, you have tracks like opener “Skogen mumlar” and “Mountain Song” that really lean in to Neofolk territory, the first culling directly from Helga Gabriel’s Swedish heritage (she being from a culturally distinct region known as Dalarna) – deploying everything from Swedish language lyrics and heavily folk-based vocal patterns, to the use of vaguely tribal hand-clapped rhythms and violin melodies to paint an epic, building picture of remote beauty and mysticism. You can absolutely picture the snow-capped mountains and pine-blanketed forests at the heart of the rhythmic drums and riffs that are majestic, and yet carry a palpable, surging energy that practically swells in your chest.

But with those more uplifting moments also come the more haunting. The mournful “If Death Comes Now” could be a B-side offering from Ethel Cain‘s Preacher’s Daughter, filled with the same sort of intoxicating beauty that intrigues, but plagued with the same feeling of inevitable doom that keeps you grounded and introspective. Perhaps a bit oddly, “Alive Again” carries the same sort of weight, choosing again to let the listener wallow in a darkened corner alone with their thoughts, building to a bit of a lighter crescendo, but nonetheless erring on the lighter side of mystery and wonderment. On the flip side – you have the bright and airy “Vast and Wild,” which somehow culls both from the schools of Alcest and Les Discretes, with the much greater pop sensibilities of Sinead O’Conner and Tori Amos, Somehow both ProgPower and Lilith Fair all wrapped up into one. It’s a breath of fresh air that will have you picturing lush forests sunshine on a warm summer’s day, which is – frankly, pretty invigorating! I feel me mood becoming lighter by the second. It’s nice.

But while all of this ought to be more than enough to intrigue any music fan, I understand the average headbanger might need something a little closer to their comfort zone, and while Helga isn’t likely to over-work your neck muscles, they aren’t without a bit of venom. The band, and in particular Gabriel herself, flash their teeth on more blackened stretches like on the tortured screams of “Farväl” and  “Som en trumma,” which lean into the sort of Post-Blackened attack you may not be terribly surprised to find in an offering such as this. They hardly carry the day, but they do a nice job of keeping the listener on edge, ready for whatever other evil may still be lurking around the bend if you’re not too careful.

There’s a refreshing quality about the Wrapped in Mist experience that may not necessarily bowl you over like listening to Cryptopsy’s “We Bleed” on your second chugged Red Bull, but for an album not shy about  taking some meandering paths along the way, it’s delivered with clarity, focus and purpose – an inexplicable drive capable of boosting your internal batteries while helping you stay lucid and in-the-moment. Sure, you could make an argument that Helga could benefit from straightening out some of the gnarled paths en route to their end goal, but for a debut effort, I’m left wholly impressed and eager to see where this young act journeys next. I’ll tell you one thing, if you come to my restaurant and I haven’t thrown your food in your face or shown utter disdain for your food ordering decisions, you can thank the likes of Helga for keeping me in line.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
December 13th, 2023

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