In recent years, Iceland has become a veritable cauldron of seething black metal, reliably spewing forth some of the most claustrophobic and vicious bands around. The latest of these is Helfró, whose eponymous debut launches straight into the uncompromising ‘Afeitrun’. After a brief intro, the track explodes into a full-on icy black metal barrage with unrelenting blast beats, vitriolic vocals and malevolent melody perhaps bringing to mind Dark Funeral as a reference point.
‘Ávöxtur af rotnu tré’ picks up the baton as things become a little darker and begin to sound more sinister with the vocals now growled and set atop incisive rhythmic riffing creating a more oppressive atmosphere. However, the direction suddenly changes with the pace slowing and the vocals becoming more of a chant. Things soon return to the more familiar black metal, but the brief interlude adds another dimension and serves to emphasise the intensity of the rest of the track. The fury continues on ‘Eldhjarta’ as the album picks up real momentum with uncompromising drumming, caustic vocals and acerbic guitar work.
The intro to ‘Þrátt fyrir brennandi vilja’ is more akin to doom metal, but harsh, sardonic vocals soon return as the pace accelerates, reminding us that this is actually extreme metal and as the track progresses, there is a spiralling impression of claustrophobia.
‘Þegn hinna stundlegu harma’ maintains the intensity leading mercilessly into ‘Hin forboðna alsæla’. This keeps up the vehemence until it is replaced by calm for a short passage of clean vocals serving to break the trance that has been induced by the preceding battery. We are once more subsumed by a ferocious barrage that leads into the relentless ‘Katrín’, which is also punctuated with a short burst of clean vocals. Things are brought to a close with a no-frills fusillade in the form of ‘Musteri agans’.
At just over 36 minutes, this is a full-on aural assault of intricate, swirling maelstroms of maleficent Icelandic black metal, eschewing the ambient or atmospheric interludes found in so much modern black metal, preferring unrelenting blast beats and venomous vocals. That doesn’t mean to say there is no refinement. Indeed, the battery is nicely augmented by exemplary guitar work and melody woven into the malevolence as well as occasional clean vocals. This is a stunning debut and one of the most impressive black metal releases I’ve heard for a while. Yet another addition to the ever-expanding Icelandic Black Metal Massif.
(9/10 Andy Pountney)