Helrunar
Sól

It has been three years since Helrunar‘s Baldr Ok Íss. This follow-up album was started in the summer of 2008. According to the label’s press packet:

Helrunar set about erecting a memorial in their own honor. Sól are two conceptually linked albums of tremendous depth, combining contradictory attributes such as catchiness and complexity in the brace of icy black metal sounds. Pagan black metal has never been as oppressive and credible as it is on Sól.”

So the question of the day is are they correct? Oppressive? I can think of many examples. Credible? I think that is the key idea, more on that later. Sól is certainly oppressive in places, with monstrous heaviness and intricate, obtuse passages both contributing to an oppressive feeling. Yet the music is so much more. Helrunar is archaic, subconscious pagan memory. Nothing is forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten, especially not Darkthrone, Satyricon, Ulver, Enslaved, and also tangentially a little Dissection and Bathory.

Before I get to much further, Helrunar’s fourth album is called Sól, and due to its length it is going to be released in two parts entitled Sól I – Der Dorn im Nebel and Sól II – Zweige der Erinnerung respectively. The two albums combined are around 100-minutes playing time. Skald Draugir says “Sól is going to be our darkest and most nihilistic, but also our most spiritual work to date…we will take new paths music-wise and lyrics-wise, while our roots are still very much black metal. Musically, we are putting an emphasis on atmosphere and an emotional arc of suspense on Sól, lending a certain epic broadness to the tracks.

Musically, Der Dorn im Nebel establishes the concept of Sól with classical and direct pagan black metal, while the lyrics outline the individual’s struggle against and for himself. Part 1 of the two-piece concept album. With Zweige der Erinnerung the struggle of the individual reaches a new dimension, supported by more experimental and atmospheric more complex pagan black metal, the focus lies on the conflict of individual and society.  Part 2 of the two-piece concept album. It also comes in an oversized double album with massive booklet. The Art Book is a limited print edition of the album. A lot of additional artwork is included in it and the complete Sól text and both CDs are included in their entirety. The central symbolism of Sól is the sun, both in a destructive aspect as well as a life-giving element.

Now on to the music. As always, a well conceived carefully crafted piece of epic storytelling. Drummer Alsvartr has outdone himself on the musical compositions. There are long songs with plenty of punch and longer songs with a more introspective approach. There are extended fast breaks and slow passages where notes are allowed to decay. Alsvartr performs drums, bass guitar, additional lead and acoustic guitars, and wrote all instrumentation. Draugir is all voices and provided the context and the lyric poetry. Session player Discordius provided lead, rhythm, clean and acoustic guitars. Blastbeats make up a lot of the album, and furious tremolo picked guitars are plenty. Heavy crunch chugga chugga rhythm guitars are paired with repeated bass figures. There are tons of cleanly picked melodic leads which are clearly heard behind the fuzzed out melodic lines. Simple melodic themes are reconfigured throughout, adding to the denseness of the narrative by continually linking together the disparate strands. Skald Draugir”s vocals range from harsh to haunted, spoken to shouted, with deep resounding backing chants and sung notes. They are still making use of nature sounds. Guest musician Blutaar from Drautran provides vocals on  “Kollapsar” and “Aschevolk.” The drums have more punch to them, louder without overwhelming and Alsvartr puts heavy emphasis on rhythmic drive yet provides plenty of fills and occasional melodic phrasing, which is always cool coming from the drummer. The drums back way off to minimalist when necessary, allowing for such developments as well timed and well executed acoustic breaks and unaccompanied narration.

Lyrically is where the aforementioned credible really comes into play. While the instrumentation is by all measures credible, it is the monumentally challenging task that Draugir places before himself that needs to be measured as credible, and that is because he seeks no less than to render heathenry relevant to the modern world. The meaning of the name of the band is essentially speaking with Hel. To whisper with Hel means to awaken lost or suppressed memories from the human subconscious. These cultural memories are in our ancient stories. The wisdom hidden in pagan myths can uncover a deeper truth for modern people. People need these roots from myth to discover who they are. There is a great longing for cultural identity, original spirituality in these confused modern times, evidenced by the proliferation of folk-metal bands, as they try to find a way to rediscover old ways.

A quotation from the band should prove helpful. “Helrunar is an archaic breath of the misty world hidden behind all that is considered real by the people of a modern society marked by dull materialism. A breath filled with darkness, fear and coldness, but also with the wisdom and the passionate imagination of a remote past veiled by the mist. A breath silently whispering tales of what once came to pass, but will always come to pass again. A breath that becomes a song to counter oblivion as it brushes the branches. A breath that becomes a storm as the illusion fades away and the misty world awakens …”

So Helrunar have decided that all these pretender pagan and folk bands do not know the myths and folk traditions that they sing about. They learn the stories but not the lore, and the stories are rooted in the past and not applied to the present. This album is an attempt to revive mythical language and content that is otherwise often trampled and disfigured in pagan metal. Draugir says the worst is that many of the bands are not aware that they only parody what they actually glorify, maintain, revive, or want to preserve. “It is not about ideology. Nor do we believe to have a monopoly on the truth for us,” he says. Even worse are the many folk metal bands where the whole thing has more to do with fantasy films and computer games than myths. How they cope with myths is from within the modern worldview, and therefore much is lost in translation. “Often it is just pop music in Viking costume.” He throws out Enslaved, Primordial, and Drautran as walking the heathen path. I would add Helrunar.

So the narrative presented on Sól is a complex multi-threaded story involving, among other things, miners and mountains and it is written in a way that multiple layers can be deciphered. In principle, a disaster occurred, all things are connected with this traumatic experience. “An attempt by the processing, a search for the causes, a reflection on the reasons why a path to isolation, a slow awakening, a cure.” The disaster and the crisis in addition to their destructive effect also reveal a new perspective on the world and the self.  The first part is more about the struggle of the individual against and around themselves, and the second rather the individual in the fight against the community. As far as presentation, imagine a multi-character play with all parts performed by one actor. He wants to challenge the reader, encouraging them to place themselves with their thoughts, experiences, and emotions within the text.

He also wants you to understand that nature religions are not primitive, that is only when seen from our modern perspective. They are very complex.  A myth has validity for each member of society that it has produced, whether farmer, scholar, craftsman, chief or whatever. The one who tells the myth that is passed on and continues singing about it should know it but also understand its meaning and tell it accurately. It is rather a different, symbolic form of thinking. It’s about the content that is hidden in myths that make them suitable for modern people to access and to demonstrate that they have meaning, that they are useful and important.

So, we need to understand the myth as a symbol that is on some level just as true as science. In the mythical reality the material world and the spiritual are not separate, as the myth explains everything at once. Gods and spirits are always present, as a mythical people perceiving the existence of the world alone is proof enough that the gods exist. All things are animated, and everything has a purpose in the great whole. Rational thinking, however, is the primary way of perceiving the modern world. In a scientific worldview there is no room for gods. People have lost some useful aspects of cognition with the loss of mythical thinking. The view of the in-between, the relationships between things and opportunities we have lost. “Such a capacity for holistic thinking would be for people today absolutely crucial, considering the current state of the world,” says Draugir, “the aim is in large part to the experience, individually and collectively. It is important to guide in mind that telling the people above all is to understand his life better and to cope.”

After listening to this double album psychological drama in three acts, is the drama vivid in your minds? Pulling tracks out as standalone songs is possible for many but this is a fully realized album-long composition best devoured whole. Transitions from track to track were obviously mapped out and track order is significant. Favorite moments include “Rattenkönig” with its quiet intro and epic melodies, where intensity abounds. Another is “Sól” with great lead melodic lines and ample time for themes to develop, also “Aschevolk” with old style shrieks delivered with the fury of the winter wind, thanks to Drautran, paired up with venomous growls, and “Kollapsar”, highlighted by the ultra heavy rhythmic guitar, slow and ominous, and same initial theme echoed into your permanent memory.

Put January 7 on your calendar, this is one to wait in line for. Buy the double disc version.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Grimulfr
December 31st, 2010

Comments

  1. Commented by: slimylimey

    Fantastic review Grim, great to see you back.

    Will definitely be picking this up.


  2. Commented by: bast

    Hey Grim, missed your reviews, now I know where were you.


  3. Commented by: Jesse Wolf

    Holy Crap that is a long review. Good one though bro.


  4. Commented by: timshel

    Bravo. I will have to check this out.


  5. Commented by: GDubya

    I always love a mixture of nihilism and spirituality. That makes so much sense to me!?!?
    Nihilistic but Spiritual! I get it(???)


  6. Commented by: Earthly Idea

    Damn! I wish this review was a little longer!


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