Helrunar hails from Munster Germany and formed in spring 2001. They play Heathen black metal and Frostnacht is their debut album for a record label, with Gratr being self released. If I was in the habit of offering quick and dirty comparisons to known bands I’d say Enslaved meets Immortal circa 1994 with Frostmoon Eclipse thrown in for good measure. With the name of Helrunar it obviously is a pagan band. The subject matter is Pagan wisdom, northern myths, and nature’s majesty. The lyrics are in German, Old Norse and Norwegian. The vocals are real black style, like Abbath used to do. Spoken/ whispered vocals are also used as well. The base of the music is ice cold early 90’s Norwegian black with swirling melodies, memorable riffs and rhythmic power. Imagine the vocal style of Immortal but with more emotion combined with early Enslaved style melodies but no keyboards. The guitars are aggressive at times, melancholy at other moments. Acoustic guitars fill the role usually reserved for keyboards. Songs flow very well and pacing is great. No songs drag on too long. The sound quality is great, especially the drums, powerful and clear. Acoustic interludes break the album into smaller groupings of songs that fit well together, harsh and grim or slow and heavy. The main speed is mid tempo but faster is more often the rule than slower.

A brief intro jumps right into “Frostnacht” which is mostly fast to start, with near whispered vocals during the slow parts and the bulk of the song is mid paced. “Unten und im Norden” is next and picks up right where the title track left off with sustained blastbeats and great snarled vocals. The guitar slowly fades out to end and “Bis die Seele gefriert” starts with some cool riffs and a slower pace kept up by the drumming. Showing that they are not afraid to go without vocals it is quite awhile before words are needed. Clean vocals are used well and guitars fill the role of synthesizers. The next track “Nachtfrost” is an acoustic interlude between the harsher related songs just ended and the more melancholic end of the album. “Neun Nachte” is an excellent long acoustic solo with whispered /spoken vocals.  “Alter als das Kreuz” starts off slow and doomy with bells. The drums pick up the pace a few minutes in. There are lots of time changes with the guitars really dominating this song, making for a more melodic epic feel to this saga music.

In my mind black metal with acoustic guitar begins with Frostmoon Eclipse in terms of quality and Helrunar is right up there. Acoustic guitars hold their own within the framework of “Minis Brunnr” never sounding like a gimmick and certainly not the weak link like with so many bands using acoustics because Ulver did. The closing solo to this song is excellent and so are the other acoustic breaks incorporated into “Minis Brunnr,” which gets my vote for favorite song. This is the pull it all together song with an acoustic opening followed by melodic electric guitar. The vocals are still with a snarl but the delivery speed is slowed to a casual tempo. Blastbeats precede an acoustic break with clearly spoken vocals. The pace remains slow for awhile before blastbeats again signal tempo change and moody melancholic guitars give way to a spectacular acoustic solo to end things. The cover artwork is hard to decipher at first glance. It is a snow covered excavated grave with a skeleton inside. Runes are drawn along the side of the grave.

After listening to this disc about two dozen times, no exaggeration,  in the past two weeks it is clear I would have made this a top ten pick of 2005, alas I didn’t get a copy until April 2006. I am also hoping skald Draugir sees fit to post English translations of the lyrics on their website. My pathetic grasp of German and an English/German dictionary didn’t do me much good while listening to the songs. The promo copy contains no lyric sheet, German, Norwegian or English. I placed an order for a copy of the Frostnacht digipack and I suggest you do the same.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Grimulfr
April 25th, 2006


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