I could not have asked for a better musical companion to the last couple of cold winter weeks and Norse Viking brigade Helheim’s 9th album has been spun on a near daily basis. There’s always plenty of depth about their work and everything is as expected painstakingly constructed here from the roots up. V’gandr and his brigands seem to be at the top of their game of late and whereas last album raunijaR was more like a return to previous work and a completion of certain cycles landawarijaR returns to ideas formulated on Heiðindómr ok mótgangr from 2011 and could be seen as a direct continuation from it.
Although divided into 7 tracks each with plenty of distinction, one of the first things I noticed here is that the music flows without any in between pause and in this way works as one complete movement and a continuous piece of music. I guess this makes it feel all the more epic and a huge journey to embark on. Lasting near to an hour in length too, this is an album that has a huge gravitas about it and one that will certainly enchant through continuous plays. There is stacks to absorb from the glistening guitar intro of ‘Ymr’ and the thick and powerful melody building from both it and the hoary and clean accompanying vocals. The booming timpani percussion and the horns which give Helheim’s music even greater distinction are back and when they make their presence felt you can simply close your eyes and be transported back in time, manning the longboats for a real voyage of discovery and plunder. The bygone times clash with modernity as far as the music is concerned and there is a blackened fervour threatening to rise from the glorious harmonies and bite in caustically, raging into a blackened swagger. This it does in style with second track ‘Baklengs mot intet’ as the band take us ‘Backwards Upon Naught’ and unleash their full armoury and percussive might. The clean vocal parts are glorious and full of passion and placed next to the galloping bravado there’s plenty here to literally take your breath away. Like countrymen Enslaved, another facet that Helheim are so adept at employing is cascading their instrumentation into near psychedelic flurries and the complex skill of the guitar parts are second to none here as things race and spiral away. Obviously as the Norse language takes us on Skaldic quests and the banner of the Blood Eagle is raised there is a certain amount of mystery about the exact narrative for us non speakers but that only seems to make the odyssey all the more intriguing as we are dropped into the tales that are surely mighty legends in the telling.
There are a few guests involved vocally such as renowned Bergen singer songwriter William Hut, Bjornar E Nilsen of Vulture Industries and Black Hole Generator (who also produced the album) and Alkfahanne’s Pehr Skjoldhammer. As far as the latter is concerned you should instantly recognise his bloody yaps when they rear up and bite in on ‘Synir af heidindomr’ a track with some great strident riffs to match his voice making it all sound like it has escaped from a gun-slinging Western. As with the vocals the music is a constantly evolving and shape-shifting mass. There’s some fantastic progressive parts that are allowed free reign to soak you in their upbeat and joyous tones, some acoustic passages to enrapture and entrance and those violent surges to pick you up and carry you off.
This is truly one of those albums that mere words are not going to express just how great it is, you really need to hear landawarijaR for yourself and then find yourself as equally addicted as I am. The first great album of 2017? You better believe it, this one is still going to be in rotation throughout the year and although it’s incredibly early days, I reckon this is going to be on my album of the year list in 12 months’ time; watch this space!
(9/10 Pete Woods)