Are Norwegians like us in England, obsessed about the weather? Well from what I know they certainly get afflicted by all sorts of extremes far worse than we do here in that respect but no doubt shrug their shoulders and get on with things, whereas a little bit of snow brings our country to a grinding halt. It seems somewhat perverse sitting down to write about new album Rignir when we have been hit by a veritable Easter heat-wave and when friends and colleagues are no doubt enjoying themselves in Oslo at the annual Inferno festival. Checking the forecast apparently there is no precipitation there but it is up to 10 degrees cooler than here at present. Why am I wittering on about the weather you ask? Well Viking scholars Helheim have gone and conceptually written an album all about it. Rignir means rain and tying the track titles into a translate engine we are confronted by cold, hail, snow, ice storms and winter; it’s enough to make me shiver despite the heat. Something is somewhat odd and at contrast about all this though as having lived with the album for a while it has to be said it is probably the bands warmest composition in the couple of decades they have been doing this. They were pretty mature even when they started all this with no particular childish moments sullying their career and V’gandr, Hrymr and H’grimnir who were joined by Reichborn in 2008 have always seemed to be a band striving to up the stakes in their already mature and epic craft. These are good words to describe the bands tenth album too, concentrating on Old Norse alliterative verse and gaining inspiration from the Eddas we see them having surpassed their origins and moving ever forward in their quest. I don’t think you could really slab a black metal tag on what we have here, although that should not put you off. Musically like compatriots Enslaved the band are ever evolving to greatness and grandiosity as these 8 fantastic songs steadfastly prove.
The title track sees the rain itself pattering slowly against the musical window they have opened to let the elements in. Vocals are nearly all clean on the album and totally at harmony with the beautiful melodicism found within. Build up is subtle but easily hooks the listener in. There are gorgeous guitar motifs and the slow brooding orchestration of the booming timpani drums, underneath it all is a slow burning psychedelia. Despite language differences it is enthralling the way the words roll off the tongue here along with some fantastic guitar leads and it is easy for your imagination to do the rest with the provided narrative insights. Kaldr brings the cold and probably the harshest and blackest track on the album with the elements bristling and driving down. It’s fast and to a large extent feral with some more extreme vocals screaming away frostily as cymbals clash and the drumming drives away. Tempo is downed and a gorgeous melody and vocal croon leaves you out standing in the freezing climate revelling at nature in all its glories and feeling totally alive as you soak it all up. Expansive and cinematic moments enforce the vision, you could use the post-rock phrase if pushed but to me the underlying psyche is never far away; this is progressive in all the right ways. A musical smorgasbord is definitely unfolding and no genre is safe from introspective reflection as the near blues-grass tones see us moving into the hail of Hagl. It’s all about atmosphere and then the guitars jangle, the drums roll and we are musically pelted with a refreshing and zingy outpouring from the heavens themselves. I’m not sure if the band have gone out in weather like this and stripped naked revelling in it but musically the sheer joy and delirium reflected by this suggests that they may just have done so…
Hopefully they covered up quickly though as the snow of Snjóva is best experienced by a roaring log-fire and the glorious sing-along they partake in here is very much part of the lovely warmth spreading from these songs mentioned earlier. The swirling guitars provide plenty of bite and the song culminates in a driving flurry which thickens in the fantastic ice of Ísuð which hopefully you have already experienced from the preview on this site. The rafter hitting croons on this have a big music near stadium rock feel about them and one wonders how the hell they will be contained in smaller venues that we are going to be privileged to witness them in on the upcoming tour with Madder Mortem and Vulture Industries. The exotic sitar like call adds some mystery and exoticism but it is the fantastic strumming guitar line that joins the party at the half-way mark which makes this such a delirious number as it literally takes your head clean off.
I have to admit there are times such as on Vindarblástr (which I can’t seem to translate) that I am seriously reminded of Iceland’s finest Sólstafir and I guess thematically there is plenty to link them and it is not a complaint in the slightest just an observation that really strikes on this particular number. With spring very much in the air and summer round the corner this still works so well and you can’t help thinking how long a wait there will be till Vetrarmegin falls once more and the album can be listened to in its natural element. Whatever the climate there is no denying the potency of the album and the fact that this is an album that is glorious no matter what the season is and curling up with it won’t leave you feeling disappointed in the slightest.
Right I’ll stop blathering on about the weather now!
(9/10 Pete Woods)