Baldr Ok Íss
posted on 4/2008 By:
The majority of what has been hailed as upper-echelon black metal over the past few years has been extremely challenging in nature. Not only for the listener, but for the boundaries of the genre itself. From the sprawling epics of the forest-dwellers, to the angular density of the prog-pushers, and even the droning atmospheres conjured by the still-breathing suicidalists, the black arts of 2008 exist in a heightened state of musical awareness. All told, these are exciting times.
But as strong as these far-flung branches are, they are coming to rest farther and farther from the root of heavy metal's essence. This is not a statement of condecension, nor invalidation. It's just a simple fact: The more rings that are added, the greater the distance that is traveled from the core. The core. The almighty riff. That monstrous hallmark of fist-raising, neck-wrecking glory. When applied to the blackened aesthetic with forceful aplomb, the resulting shock is downright blissful in its violence. While it is nary impossible for a band to recreate the creeping dread that a record like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas puked forth back in the day, it shouldn't be unreasonable to ask for a four-guys-in-a-room, guitar-driven facegrind that stirs the senses. Few (if any) high-caliber black metal bands have torqued my screw in that primal fashion as of late.
Enter Helrunar. Wielding an absolutely devastating brand of pagan black metal, this German trio aim not to redraw territorial boundaries. Their goal is to craft a fifteen-ton slab of headbanging madness while cementing their own footprints into a well-trodden path. By all accounts, they succeed.
Pulsing with an epic swagger not unlike early Amon Amarth, as well as a regal fervor that recalls early Enslaved, Baldr Ok Iss simply kicks ass. There's really no other way to chip this one apart, folks. Though this thing is wrapped in Icelandic and German dialect, grandoise concepts of nature and mythology, and a whipping torrent of ice-coated pine needles, the only thing that matters is the fact that each one of this album's songs is top-fucking-shelf. And this is no mere jam sandwich of like-sounding tunes that bleed into each other; each of these rock-solid monoliths pop from the canvas with a unique personality unto their own, telling a story that makes the translation loss irrelevant. "Schwarzer Frost" is a shining example of their impeccable grasp of dynamics, as a bluesy, Angus Young-in-corpsepaint intro segues beautifully into a double-bass driven icestorm - before fading out with one of the crunchiest, knuckle-smashingest riff progressions heard this year. "Iss" is super fast and super furious, crackling with an amplified Gorgorothian electricity, and the gnarled, low-slung pisscrust that drives "Hunta and Boga" is immaculate in its filth. The absolute highlight, however, is the final proper track, "Til Jardar". The cleanly-strummed open chords that introduce the first verse are simply stunning, oddly projecting fantasies of Vitalogy-era Gossard/McCready with daypacks strapped to their back, surveying the awesome scale of life itself from a perch at the edge of the earth. Yeah, I know that referencing fucking Pearl Jam within the context of a black metal review is akin to stapling my dick to my forehead and attempting a backflip, but the comparison is apt, and the song itself is mindblowing.
Helrunar disperse moderate helpings of clean singing and acoustic flavoring throughout the course of Baldr Ok Iss, keeping their folk element in play amid their fury. Their usage of these tricks is tasteful and seamless within the context of the album, an attribute associated with the most effective and authentic of bands; the truly elite need not club the listener over the head with their ethos and/or iconography, as it flows naturally through their art. The majesty of said art is amplified by a freaking huge production that truly brings the album to life. Bass drums that encompass entire bodies of water, guitars that could cleave through oak, and vocals that summon magma from the earth's core are all amplified and presented with appropriate might. This arsenal of weapons, compounded with the fact that the band obviously have a firm grasp on the fact that heavy metal is rooted in rock-'n-fucking-roll, make Baldr Ok Iss essential listening. Imagine Kroda absorbed by Vreid, sans all the bullshit. Helrunar are better than that, and have truly mastered their domain.
Black metal album of the year. Simply supreme.
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