Somewhere around five years ago I reviewed the debut album by this Irish band, and was very taken with its blend of Viking aggression and melody, even if ‘Invictus’ is probably the best song Amon Amarth never wrote. Then silence. Five years later here they are again, the gap seemingly the result of the sadly normal intrusions of line-up changes and probably real world obstacles.

What I’m really glad to say is their bright energy and knack for song writing is still fully intact, as shown by the opening two tracks ‘Our Time In The Sun’ and ‘The End Of All Things’. They bill themselves as black metal but, despite a definite upping of a more feral aggressive edge and a huge stride away from Amon Amarth, the epic sound their unerring feel for melodies and truly rousing guitars brings, and what lyrics I can decipher, puts this firmly in heathen/Viking territory (though for all I know, given the name, maybe this is orcish..)Whatever, labels don’t matter: What does matter is that my opinion hasn’t changed. Eternal Helcaraxe really do have something special about them.

You hear a song like ‘Bannow’ with its melancholy tune, the fine use of brief female vocals and its beautiful flow over nine minutes and you realise these are born musical storytellers. They can open up huge vistas with just a few notes, like Winerfylleth or Mael Mordha (r.i.p), and then drive that black metal attack through it like an invading cavalry. Every melody is memorable, every song here worthy of attention. It is a long album, but thankfully it really holds the attention from fiery start to the almost introspective end of ‘One Journey’.

Let’s be to the point; if this had arrived just a little earlier it would have easily been in my top 20 end of year list, maybe knocking on the door of the top 10. As it is, I’ll just label this as a great Yule present and urge any fan of epic extreme metal to give this a listen over the festive period. It’s great to see them still fighting and in such heroic form. Hope they make it over to England sometime in 2018. Superb, guys, superb.

(9/10 Gizmo)