Viking metal horde Helheim keep blades sharp, drama bleeding on fiery ninth album ‘landawarijaR’

helheimWhere would heavy metal be without Vikings? You can sift all the way back to Led Zeppelin to find their influence on heavy music, and now metal that pays homage to Viking battles and lore make up a separate sub-genre. It’s especially fitting here in the Northeastern section of the United States, while we’re at the clutches of snow and ice, to be in the midst of more great Viking black metal.

Nordic beasts Helheim have been punching out tried-and-true Viking black metal for a quarter of a century now, and they’re back with their explosive ninth album “landawarijaR” that not only does their subject matter well but also the band’s noteworthy legacy. Of course, Helheim may not be as well-known as, say, Unleashed or Enslaved, but they’ve carried on and endured just as long, and they’re still making vital, punishing music. On their latest opus, a seven-track affair, they keep melodies surging, blood flowing, and the clashing of weaponry fresh, pouring emotion and fury into each one of these songs, making each a chapter that feels like a soundtrack into wintry battle.

helheim-coverAs noted, Helheim have been at this for the past 25 years, getting their start in 1992 and releasing their debut record “Jormundgand” three years later. They stayed on a pretty regular release schedule, coming back with something new every few years or so, with their most recent being 2015’s “raunijaR.” Well, most recent until “landawarijaR” landed, another effort to maintain Norse mythology and ensure that it continues to survive and thrive as time goes on. The band—guitarist/vocalist H’grimnir, bassist/vocalist V’gandr, lead guitarist Reichborn (the only non-original member), and drummer Hrymr—once again delivers the goods, enhancing their music with timpani and horns, and even inviting some special guests along for the ride to contribute additional vocals to the songs. It all makes for a raucous, spirited record that’s a lot of fun to play back over and over.

“Ymr” opens with a door creaking and bootsteps, as if setting up what’s about to transpire. It doesn’t take long for things to get grim and heavy, as out of an acoustic stream comes rumbling growls, guitars that kick up mud, and snowy melodies. Growls and singing tangle, as they often do on this record, and then it’s into “Baklengs mot intet,” where a chilling start lets your guard before the tempo erupts. The track storms heavily, blanketing everything, as horns blow and the music conjures great drama. There’s a nice stretch of soloing that practically drips with classic metal glory, and then it’s into a deep blast of winter and a crushing surge to end the song. “Rista blodørn” begins heavily, but then the reins are pulled back just a bit. There’s a nautical sense to all of this, as the growls are harsh and slice through choppy waters, and fiery leads emerge out of that. Clean singing returns, creating a mystical element, while the final stretch blows up and has a gloriously tormenting edge. The title track is the longest piece at 9:44, and it changes things up, going in more of a proggy, Rush-style angle. There is an epic feel to this that has nothing to do with the run time, as guitars soar and keep building layers, melodies grow and bend around corners, and clean calling again brings a haunting edge, as the track comes to a giant climax of a finish that should have your heart racing.

“Ouroboros” has a tempo that pushes hard from the start, with grimy growls on the verses and cloudy singing on the choruses. Doom horns wail again, almost as if the city gates are about to come down, and then the band swings back to prog, which allows new colors to emerge. All elements darken and cascade, with a spacey final few moments giving off steam. “Synir af heidindomr” starts with ominous acoustics, yelled vocals, and the pace crawling darkly. The playing keeps ramping up in intensity, as attitude-smeared vocals spill out, and then music unexpectedly goes psychedelic and then into NWOBHM-style thunder. Shrieks arrive from there, as thorns are dragged over the song before it fades away. Closer “Enda-dagr” has a hypnotic start before the guitars get steely and rough, and the growls again interact with sung lines. The song has an even-tempered sprawl, though there are threats for madness to return, and when the melodies thicken, horn blow again and send chills. As the track swims toward its finish, it gets surfy and windy, bringing a very different vibe to the cut, and after the music dissolves into a pool of weirdness, the bootsteps heard at the start of the record pick up again, this time leaving and closing the door behind them.

As long as bands such as Helheim exist, the Viking spirit will remain a huge part of metal’s DNA. “landawarijaR” is another strong, fiery release for these Viking black metal lifers, and as their journey progresses, they keep returning with music that’s formidable and as tough to conquer as the men and women they honor. Helheim may not be fighting actual physical battles, but their music bears the scars of the ages that only serves to toughen this vicious band.

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