At the end of 2021 the Norwegian legends Helheim have presented their eleventh studio album WoduridaR (which means “the wild rider” from Old Norse) via Dark Essence Records. Helheim and Dark Essence are in really good terms – they released together seven LPs within fifteen years of this successful collaboration. It seems like everyone is happy in this relationship – the label has this permanent cult name in their roster, but Helheim gets their deserved promotion and a lot of love from fans of viking metal throughout the world.
Helheim is more like a static band – minimal changes which are mainly performed in a smooth way. Their musical evolution isn’t drastic or imbued with global things; these brutal Vikings have caught their own mood and were professionally savvy from the beginning, and for thirty years they have cherished their own trademark, enrichening the black/folk metal scene and enshrining old traditions of Scandinavian mythology. The musicians in Helheim are truly devoted and have similar views on the musical development, so three of four musicians are still there since the beginning of time, sharing the common ideas and feelings all these decades. Maybe this is the main reason why there are so few changes throughout the history of this band.
This album isn’t conceptual in a classical way, every song tells its own story, but still the themes are connected, based on Nordic traditions, ancient rituals and revolving around the mythological heroes. The music is soaked in pagan atmosphere, emphasizing the importance of nature through the symbolical characters and contexts. This is the modern way of preaching Nordic traditions of the past – through different art techniques to stay connected with the Gods. Of course, for the majority of people it’s just a beautiful part of the past, some kind of entertainment, but there are really devoted persons, for whom these Scandinavian traditions build up a way of life. And you can be an absolute atheist, but when you listen to WoduridaR, it feels like the presence of Odin touches your inner consciousness, and unleashes your bond with your ancestors in a pure and a natural way. Yeah, so no doubt, that for Helheim the Nordic culture isn’t just another fashion trend (and 30-year long history proves it).
Musically this album is very close to a formal concept of black metal, the ethnic side isn’t so audible here, but still the folk elements define the very mood of WoduridaR, sometimes muting the black metal foundation into the background. So, on this solid black metal base are constructed the folk parts, full of melodies and solemnity. Pagan/viking metal is often connected to black metal, Helheim were never interested in conquering the meeker realms of progressive folk/power/melodic death; WoduridaR has balls of steel and the will of the gods. Melodic parts aren’t mitigating the sound, but they don’t provide us with catchy passages and chilling emotional outbursts. WoduridaR is a straightforward old school record, which is focused on a raw and brutal side, without flouncing in perpetual quest for something new or unexpected.
Meanwhile, we can observe something slow and calm here, it’s rather atypical for Helheim to show their softer side, bringing melancholic feelings and sad vibes. Of course, we can forget about these sorrowful details during black metal parts, those are projected through the ethnic passages (“Forrang for Fiende” or “Det Kommer i Bølger”). And though you can’t describe WoduridaR as disharmonic, these parts sometimes sound so disconnected, like two different bands are playing. And there is also the singing question, which supports this unspoken rule – all the extreme vocal lines are performed during black metal parts and the clean voice attracts the folky tunes. There’s a lot going on during those ethnic passages – from anxious atmosphere and patriotic spirit to sorrowful emotional state and nostalgic references. And only the last song is out of place, the cover of Richard Marx’s “Hazard”. It displays the surprising side of Helheim, when brutality and pop arrangements somehow engage among themselves.
Once in a while there are some hints on classical metal – when heavy metal, dark rock and black metal collide, forming this heavier version of HM (like last records of Immortal). But of course, the war anthems are also important here, the energetic and fighting mood isn’t a rare phenomenon (WoduridaR). The sounds of nature in the background work as the catalyst of relax and purity (“Det Kommer i Bølger”), paying homage to ancient Scandinavian customs. We can forget about the sophisticated progressivity and technical intricacy; these Norwegian Vikings aren’t impressed by all these refined moods and artificial glamourizing. They prefer a real physicality, simple but true words and clear musical ideas without hidden meanings or side effects.
The sound is far from perfect here, but it looks like this is made on purpose, highlighting the rawness and raggedness, again leading us to these purisms of the natural world. The minimalistic artwork also perfectly fits into straightforward and traditional ways of classical Viking/pagan metal philosophy. WoduridaR is almost a physical journey to the symbolical past of our ancestors, when people didn’t complicate their life and were living in harmony with Mother Nature. So, during this one hour ride with Odin as our protector, we can put away all the distractions and internet addiction, focusing on the real and physical feelings from this album.
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