HULDER – The Eternal Fanfare (2022)REVIEW

Most any reflective thought or rapt analysis you’ll pull from ‘The Eternal Fanfare‘ will inevitably echo remarks made on pacific northwest-based Belgian/American black metal artist Hulder‘s preceding sharp turn of a hi-fi debut full-length ‘Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry‘ (2021) if only for the sake of this MLP acting as a stepping stone of refinement and personalized focus between larger statements. Still wearing somewhat specific taste in early-to-mid second wave Norwegian (Satyricon, ‘Dark Sorcery‘-era Aeternus, Immortal) and various Slavic (‘Purity‘-era Hate Forest) black metal as armor, the artistic voice of this solo-directed project coalesces unto a fairly accessible form of folkish, dramatically stated melodic black metal craft once again. These ~26 minutes now find the artist’s vision extrapolated unto notably (even) higher fidelity and with increasingly ethereal atmospheric context. This suggested honing should be obvious enough as the hymnal Lisa Gerrard circa ‘Aion‘-esque vocal harmony of “Curse From Beyond” first hints at a path towards something a bit more distinctly infused with the Gaelic folk/Gregorian chanted spectrum in an attempt to reinforce a dark medieval dramatist vibe which Hulder intend to continue serving in sleekest mixture dominated by pre-’96 romanticist black metal’s aggressive scorn.

“Burden of Flesh and Bone” is absolutely heavy-handed in ensuring you’ve gotten what the hype is all about up front, a seeming effortless extension of the post-‘Again Shall Be…‘ spectrum of Norse black metal (as expanded on ‘Beyond the Wandering Moon‘), now warming said chilling atmospheric wealth to a certain ‘At The Heart of Winter‘ heavy-rocking standard, cue the wailing guitar solo at the peaking end of the song before balking at the thought in kind. This is likely going to be where the old heads of traditional black metal with a bit of an allergy to nostalgic displacement will grow existentially weary yet the melodic traipsing and storming groove of this song are a bit hard to deny as an austere grand entrance and a memorable moment. There is no struggle felt here, not in the way that the previous album was still gritting its teeth in meeting a professional standard, these are capably and confidently performed feats where the amateurish edge no longer factors in the ruddy kitsch of underground black metal’s ever-naïve expectancy. ‘The Eternal Fanfare‘ is admirably slick in this regard, allowing Hulder‘s point of view a rare chance to bloom without any real resistance.

Of course this means every piece must count, especially within a sub half-hour runtime, naturally pressing focus upon elaborately folding folken melodicism. “Sylvan Awakening” exclusively ducks into its guitar driven wheeling of a consonant run-on guitar melody which finds its expansion and re-direction in between lead guitar escalations. This is perhaps where my (early) Aeternus references might appear overbearing but there is a long tradition of these forms manifesting similarly in fine artists such as Belenos and (again) Hate Forest and it takes us away from other realms of stylistic precedence which don’t otherwise match the ‘medieval’ Celtic arc felt. As a card-carrying melodic black metal enjoyer this is a blissful moment of forward facing focus on this EP and a simple yet effective choice which belays the increasingly complex whirling we find elsewhere in the artists quickly professionalizing repertoire.

The title track actually has a bit of Column A (“Burden of Flesh and Bone”) and Column B (“Sylvan Awakening”) and makes the best argument, or, acts as strongest representative as to why Hulder isn’t a blandly lesser-than nostalgia borne act in the crowded, accessible realm of United States black metal slumgullion. The guitar melody is of course pressing the advance in a satisfyingly bardic way, aggressive as parts of the song are a certain rhythmic ease allows bounding bassline plucking to generate an almost playful streak of darkness in its midst rather than an absolute cursing of the ear. At this point I suppose I’d found the wintry austerity of ‘The Eternal Fanfare‘ to instead read as inherently humanistic in spirit compared to than any 1990’s predecessor in mind. I don’t necessarily hear the spirit of mayhemic conquer or superiority upon reflection, and this contrasts very slightly to the high fantasy built ‘knife in each pocket’ scowling character of Hulder‘s debut LP. A notion more than a criticism, anyhow.

Though I love the style of this release, finding the melodies enchanting and the musicianship up to a brilliant standard I still believe Hulder‘ve only just raised the bar an inch by comparison of what’s to come. Though it isn’t as if that potential is unused, or, hiding. Here the real breakthrough, beyond gorgeously repeatable tunefulness resonating throughout each song, is a more defined sense of the artistic voice beneath the veil of black metal’s bombastic aggression. If this’d been set as Side A on a full-length I’d have been pleased with the act itself but still expecting a sheer dynamic turn to be taken (or, an emboldened artistic stroke to be found) on the second half of the experience so that the experiential motion of the full listen might find peak and valley enough to truly stick in mind. Anyhow, I’d felt some strong compulsion to keep listening to these songs over the course of several weeks for their strong use of ‘epic’ folkish melody and an overall more consistent, immersive atmospheric glom. The quality of the craftsmanship, the execution of simple ideas with a great deal of tact, is what makes it an exceptional experience and I remain in waiting to see if even bigger conceptual ideas eventually explode this already fine modus. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:The Eternal Fanfare
LABEL(S):20 Buck Spin
RELEASE DATE:July 1st, 2022

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