Review: Helsótt “Will and the Witch” [M-Theory Audio]

Review: Helsótt “Will and the Witch” [M-Theory Audio]

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By the end of the last spring, American folk/death sextet Helsótt has returned from the oblivion, presenting the new LP Will and the Witch via M-Theory Audio. They had enough time to prepare and to release this concept album; Will and the Witch sounds in the best traditions of the genre and also owns some distinctive traits straight from their native lands.

The third LP of Helsótt is based on a fictional story about the infamous gunfighter Billy the Kid, the renowned and controversial figure in the US history. It is soaked in the atmosphere of Wild West – cowboys, robberies, local wars and cult of the gun. These were really savage times that nowadays are romanticized, and not without reason. Despite the poverty, constant struggles and high crime rate, it appears that people were more alive than now. There were real emotions, real actions and real heroes. And now we have transformed into zombies that stuck into our own gadgets. But every era has its own vices and virtues, so let’s focus on the 19th century America dressed in one hour of modern folk metal.

Mainly we can hear the European folk’s influence during this album, echoes of Finntroll and Eluveitie and Equilibrium at the forefront, but the background extradites some national American hints. It’s not about indigenous music of North America, they have enough folk influence, no, it is manifested in the form of southern spirit of such styles as Americana, bluegrass or country. But in a measured and graduated way, without spoiling folk’s battle soul and northern straightforwardness. Musically Helsótt adapted all the common folk/pagan metal traditions that were derived from Europe into American lifestyle of 19th century. Sometimes you even don’t get that second part how traditionally it sounds, but then your ears can catch this distinctive southern banjo sound or primitive flute parts. Alas, all these ethnic instruments are fake, performed through masterful orchestrations and dazzling arrangements. The modern technologies are quite potent right now, but nothing can compare with the sound of a real flute or a true violin.

Will and the Witch is surprisingly diverse, connecting the plot into different kinds of musical tales – from trollish and playful folk/black metal to medieval timidity and old school death metal bluntness. Sometimes you are overwhelmed by this pagan wave of brutality, but sometimes you relax under the lulling waves of melodic death. But one thing is clear and irrefutable; the latest opus of Helsótt is abnormally energetic and fun. But the mischievous merriment doesn’t emanate positive vibes, on the contrary, it’s demonic, it’s absurdly and ridiculously dismal, and this vulgar and playful combination of candid mirth goes absolutely bonkers. Like to a one song you are dancing and slamming empty-headed, and the next just makes you depressed, and then once again it’s time to meditate upon the nature’s tranquility. No doubt, this music isn’t just a fun hobby for the musicians, it is real for them like the heroes of the past, when the emotions were sincere and life was black and white.

The most part of the songs are performed in humppa folk metal style (but only musically, without any connection to Finnish traditions) – active, impish, jolly and incredibly fast. Like the primitive and straightforward “I’ll make Ya famous” with the sound of banjo or waggish “Spit Bucket Brawl”. “Independence Night” is turned to death/thrash direction; meanwhile “Reap the Whirlwind” wallows into modern groove sound. “Skin out” stands out from the other songs, it’s almost ten-minute-long epic journey, peaceful and pure, like an old song from the real Viking times. And “Navajo Crow” is also from the same cloth – acoustic, ritualistic and ancient. War-like rhythm is also a widespread phenomenon during this record, proving once again the fighting spirit of these Californian folksters. And the use of two extreme vocal techniques seems interesting – when trollish and low growls oppose the piercing and hysterical screams. Thanks to this, the album sounds even more dynamic and vigorous. And apart from diversity and rich emotional background, Will and the Witch also comes up with the pertinent catchiness and reliable composing skills.

Helsótt is by all accounts an original band, combining the best traditions of Scandinavian folk metal with southern Americana elements and native storylines. Musically we don’t have surprises here – nothing avant-garde or extraordinary out of style, like the combo of Nordic folk and country music is the most natural thing for them that could be. And it’s twice as nice to be able to dive into two different cultures – protected by Nordic coldness and under the burning rays of the American frontier. And in this whirlwind of war, murders, sex, horses, friendships, betrayals and exhausting chase, it’s quite entertaining experience.

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