HELRUNAR - Baldr Ok Iss (LUPUS LOUNGE - CD 2007)
As much as I abhor the German black metal scene of the 90’s - or at least most of those bands (let’s just check the whole roster of Last Episode Records, with shit like Mystic Circle, Aeba and Graveworm and I can already puke in disgust), then I must also admit that in the past few years the scene in this country has improved a lot and spawned many really fantastic acts, some of which are actually my favourites, speaking of the whole black metal of nowadays. Such bands would definitely be Secrets of the Moon, Lunar Aurora, Graven, Vargsang, Sun of the Sleepless, Nachtmahr… And definitely also Helrunar, whose music I just worship – and you must know that I think of this band as one of the very best black metal bands around at the moment! I really like such kind of atmospheric black metal, one which is deeply connected to the nature and paganism, and which describes that with a strong bound to the acoustic music and so focuses more on the atmosphere rather than on the aggression. Helrunar really crushed me with their “Frostnacht” album, as well as with the incredible split EP with Nachtmahr, so at the time of the release of “Baldr Ok Iss” I was eagerly waiting for this album to come, so I can finally to listen to it. You can fuckin laught, but the day I got the CD I actually took a walk to the woods nearby my home and because it was already winter and it was freezing cold I considered it to be a perfect environment to give the premiere listening of “Baldr Ok Iss”. It can seem a stupid cliché, but such albums demand special conditions and then it seemed perfect, so I putted the headphones on and walked for something like three hours (until I had enough, because I frozen my ass too much hehe) and devoured those sounds from “Baldr Ok Iss”, thinking how amazing this album is. It was an amazing experience, believe me. Sometimes you can of course listen to the albums, while doing dishes or reading a book, but only when you open your mind and create special conditions you start to discover their whole charm and only then they seem to have a perfect sense. “Baldr Ok Iss” definitely proved that, on that day, when I walked around the forest paths, deep in snow and with the headphones on, cutting myself off from everything. Just me and Helrunar…
Ha, it is then fuckin hilarious that now, when I write this review, listening to “Baldr Ok Iss” again, it’s about 28 degrees outside, it’s the middle of the summer and I’m only wearing shorts, so hot it is. It probably isn’t the best climate for such albums, but fuck that, last week I felt a strong need to listen to “Baldr Ok Iss” and so I’ve been doing for the past few days at least two or three times a day. I started to feel a need to write some words about this album, as there may be some people, who live in unawareness of how killer is this band and this album! So, let me say it loud - “Baldr Ok Iss” IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING ALBUM! And you simply must get it right now, if you haven’t got it yet.
For the musical roots of “Baldr Ok Iss” we must go back in time into the catacombs from the early 90’s, to Norway, really. Back then there were few amazing bands, which developed a specific type of black metal, one which wasn’t oriented on aggression and primitiveness of Darkthrone, but rather on something deeper and much more atmospheric. Ulver did their amazing album “Bergtatt”, Satyricon recorded their best materials of first three full length LPs, Enslaved came out with the coldness of “Eld”… He, there were even albums like Storm’s “Nordavind” and Wongraven’s “Fjelltronen” and obviously also Burzum’s “Filosofem”. And of course no one should forget about the one and only Bathory (“Twilight of the Gods”!!!!!)! This is I think the musical background for “Baldr Ok Iss”. I must admit that I love all the albums, which I just have mentioned. They’re probably my favourite black metal LPs ever, so to get anything in similar vein is always exciting for me, as long as it’s played with high quality and brings some killer songs. “Baldr Ok Iss” not only does that, but in many ways this album captured the essence of early Norwegian black metal and is equal to the brilliance of “Bergtatt” or “The Shadowthrone”. The songwriting of Helrunar on “Baldr Ok Iss” is just top notch, I must admit that it is very rare to hear so perfectly crafted piece of cold, atmospheric black metal.
“Baldr Ok Iss” captures the attention right after the acoustic piece “Dickichtgott” finishes and “Loka Lögsaga” begins. The riffing is excellent, melodic and epic, but also very aggressive and so there are as many mid tempo parts as those really fast ones, when Helrunar cut the throats with really slaying riffing. Add to that a lot of variations with the vocals, including the clean singing, and it turns out that “Loka Lögsaga” has everything what I like about this sort of playing. “Schwarzer Frost” is even more relentless, speaking of its incredibly fast pace and piercing riffage, but the cold atmosphere is kept intact here. It may surprise some of you that Helrunar quite often sticks to the fast tempo in their music, but it definitely doesn’t ruin the mood of it and they managed to capture the balance between it and everything else, including an enormous dose of acoustic passages within the songs. Those dynamics are one of the strongest aspects of “Baldr Ok Iss”, in my opinion. The songs are really well composed, with many hooks, great riffs, incredibly well performed vocals, plus I also really like the powerful production. In the end it is impossible for me to resist to such epic anthems as “Glamr”, which is opened by the acoustic piece called “Winter” and “Hunta and Boga”. Quite often the music reminds me also the American band called Agalloch and I must admit that both bands play their music in similar, awesome way. Cold, majestic, epic black metal!
Few words must also me said about the way “Baldr Ok Iss” is released. It is on the digipack, with fat booklet, full of drawings and symbols, reminding me some of the artworks of Burzum. It also has a bonus DVD disc, with a “Making of…” type of documentary, as well as an excerpt from Helrunar’s appearance on Party Sun Festival, here with three tracks. It may not be the most awesome of all DVDs which I have watched, but surely it is good enough to watch from time to time, as an extension of an awesome album.
If there’s anything I don’t like about “Baldr Ok Iss” then I guess it would be the fact that all the lyrics are written in German language. That pisses me off deeply, really. I understand that Skald Draugir feels more comfortable, when writing his lyrics in his native language, but when we deal with such a deeply constructed and presented concept, where every song is another chapter, then it is also very important to read the story, along with the music (in this case, it is a concept about the Baldr or Baldur). And how can I do it, if everything is in German and no one bothered to deliver the translations for the not-German fans? Anyway, I’ll forgive them, as the music makes up for everything. I can hardly resist “Baldr Ok Iss” and truly this must be one of the very best atmospheric black metal albums of such kind in the past few years, along with some of the material from Agalloch, Furia, Secrets of the Moon and Dornenreich. So excellent…!
Standout tracks: “Loka Lögsaga”, “Glamr”, “Hunta and Boga”, “Schwarzer Frost”
Final rate: 97/100