HELHEIM – WoduridaR (2021)REVIEW

It is the indisputable glory of the individual that wills the pen of the obituarist, no dead hand can or should claim their own last word. Named for the fury-rider’s epitaph on the eldest known Norse tombstone, ‘WoduridaR‘ is the eleventh full-length from Norwegian viking/black metal quartet Helheim, a breath of cold autumnal air from Bergen that’ll serve as a reminder there’ll be few more profound words written about a person than those beyond death. It is an album which seems to muse upon morbidity and reflect upon legacy, accessing the well-earned knowledge of the past for a consolidated and considered sense of identity whilst peering forward in time for a place to set its dark inscription. Aiming to live a lifetime worthy of Odin and earn one’s own obelisk, these fellowes have gathered three decades worth of their own imposing and propellant selves, pouring from their hands the notably affirming restitution of ‘WoduridaR‘.

Having already detailed my own take on nearly 25 years of the band’s history in my review of their previous release (‘Rignir‘, 2019) a concise description of the greater evolution of the band is yet daunting beyond the suggestion that they’ve long been an impressive, consistently evolving fixture in the Norwegian viking/black metal sphere. In terms of the last decade or so we can consider the ‘Asgårds fall‘ (2010) EP as the turning point that’d lead ’em most directly toward the present with a shift away from their tension-wracked trio of progressive black metal releases in the 2000’s. From that point they began to sing only in Norwegian and focus on a pagan metal sound, seeming to reclaim themselves with ‘Heiðindómr ok mótgangr‘ (2011) and redefine themselves with the incredible ‘raunijaR‘ (2015) which I’d consider my favorite album of theirs per a recent jet through all eleven albums and a demo or two. This was a launching point for a certain level of mastery from which the band could potentially do what they please, ‘landawarijaR‘ (2017) touting a deeper extreme beyond its predecessor and ‘Rignir’ emphasizing its own meditative flux of pagan/folk metal vocal harmonies, epic balladeering, and modern Scandinavian progressive rock. I’ve approached ‘WoduridaR’ today with the assumption that it intends to use the lessons learned within this past decade’s worth of releases, honing each point of success along the way into one holistic representation of the core strength and determination which Helheim have long brought to their craft.

The short version, then? Heavier, catchier work emboldened by self-reflection. This is the most accessible record Helheim have written in quite some time (ever, eh?) thanks to what are essentially classic, somewhat easygoing heavy progressive rock song structures customized by way of an eclectic and multigenerational stew of expressive pagan metal instrumentation, avant-black angularity, and inspiring folk metal haunts. A simplified and only partially correct way of looking at the bigger picture, sure, but nonetheless most of these songs land at about 5-6 minutes and each provides a brilliant melodic hook, chorus, or revelatory moment in contribution of chapters within the greater whole. Helheim risk sounding a bit joyous in presentation of their own idiosyncratic or, chaotic fingerprints set all over the full listen but the major goal seems to be a well-rounded and all inclusive work which showcases the collective achievement of these folks. “Vilje av stål” is nearly wall-to-wall set with interest be it spiral-shredding solos or the brilliantly harmonized choruses and dual tonal verses later in the piece. It helps quite a bit that they’re masters of creating interest within a vortex and that Helheim can still do pagan folk ballads and ‘Written in Waters’ and/or ‘The Archaic Course’-style dread-prog quite well. Recency is an important consideration in approach as the bulk of the harmonized vocal-lead pieces, such as “Forrang for fiender” and the title track (“WoduridaR“), will immediately please fans who boarded ship via ‘Rignir’ up front. At face value, ‘WoduridaR’ isn’t so much a melting pot of various regressions but an inspired purposing of a broad, well-maintained oeuvre in development since 1992.

The aforementioned opening salvo of three songs lands as perhaps the easiest, most instantly gratifying portion of the album, arriving with style enough to convince folks who’re not necessarily familiar with Helheim; The rest of the album presents a progression of increasing density, more melodic pieces with bigger guitar hooks that often present in moody knots as we continue on. Most of the finer details will speak most clearly to ears attuned to ‘RaunijaR’ and ‘landawarijaR’, starting with my own favorite pairing of “Åndsfilosofen” and “Ni s soli sot”, the point of bliss which kept me returning to this album an uncounted number of times. These pieces do the best job of justifying why this project is so often mentioned beside the high standards of groups like Enslaved, Kampfar, and Borknagar and without sounding anything like any of them. By consistently emphasizing their unique use of horns, percussion and harmonized clean vocal arrangements it’d be impossible to walk away from ‘WoduridaR’ without a thorough understanding of Helheim‘s many signature traits. At the very end of the album “Tankesmed” still manages to uphold the high standards presented in the span of the full listen with guitar work that nearly recalls Fluisteraars here and there before the clever break into solo reminds us exactly what album we’re listening to. 12+ minute closer “Det kommer i bølger” pushes outside of the box a bit towards a Sólstafir-esque peak minus the post-rock lilt, a fine song which could just as well have been omitted and replaced by their fine cover of Richard Marx‘ strangely dark early 90’s single “Hazard”, included on only some versions of the record.

‘WoduridaR’ is not a concept album, each song presents as its own singular statement yet their relation is presented in pleasant, logical enough arrange. The full listen is moderately demanding for its ambition and this density of nuanced details may be unsettling depending on your distance from the band’s eighth and ninth albums, or their greater black metal vernacular in general. The production values breathe with the performances, some inhaling deep for the intimacy of a small venue and others exhaling deep over an amphitheater of stone, and this makes for much easier consideration for each piece as they come to create an inferred meditation on what marks great men as such in the grand scheme of things; My own interpretation using a bit of auto-translate, anyhow. As for the recommendation at hand, if you’ve caught wind of Helheim in the last decade and found some greater resonance in any of their last four records then this is arguably a righteous chance to see it all come together in stunning form. For the unindoctrinated, ‘WoduridaR’ is an even easier recommendation, if any of these pieces set your mind alight then you’ve ten other records from these folks to preen over in search of the many realms explored within this one grand statement. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Dark Essence Records
RELEASE DATE:October 29th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Viking/Black Metal,
Pagan Black/Folk Metal

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