Horna - Hengen Tulet - (6/10)
Published on October 9, 2015
One of Finland’s longest running and most renowned black metal bands, Horna’s sound can best be described as that archetypal Finnish style that the band helped pioneer. Most of the band’s discography features an extremely dark sound with a keen sense of underlying melodies constantly surging forth through cyclical trem picking, which inspired . Both of the band’s previous vocalists, Nazgul and Corvus, brought a rather maniacal, raw style of disparaging screams that painted a bleak and grim picture over the fiery, second wave styling. After Corvus’s departure in 2009, the band brought new vocalist Spellgoth on board and began a new era, which began with the largely disappointing full length Askel lähempänä Saatanaa which was released in 2013.
While not terrible as far as modern black metal albums go, Askel lähempänä Saatanaa just didn’t live up to the band’s previous body of work. All of the elements were there, but the darkened melodies and voraciously grim vocals were seriously lacking, at least when compared to a classic album like Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne. In 2015, Horna returns with their ninth full length album, Hengen tulet, which was released through World Terror Committee in September. My initial impression on the first few listens was that Horna is really starting to go down a path that they should steer clear of. The production aims at being raw, but with the overly loud drum sound and overutilisation of vocal effects, it sounds extremely forced and artificial. Both the drums and vocals drown on the guitar riffs, which seem to be the strongest selling point on the album. Successive listens have revealed some hidden gems, but it’s unfortunate that repeated listens and sheer force of will to get past the horrid drum and vocal sound are required to glean some enjoyment from this album.
That being said, Shatraug’s guitar playing is still top tier. There are loads of entrancing mid-paced trem riffs that still invoke the peak of the second wave and some moments of primordial aggression via chunky, first wave styled riffing. The rhythm section sounds solid, with an extremely thick and audible bass presence, and a solid mix of double bass runs and frenetic blasting. Though the instrumentation is solid, the production brings the drums too far forward, overpowering the guitars, which should be the focal point. Spellgoth’s vocal performance is, perhaps, Horna’s weakest link on Hengen tulet. His style is a strange mix of sodden, groaning rasps and flaccid shouts processed through way too many levels of effects, which, when compared with previous vocalists in the band, sounds extremely forced and almost laughable. Much like the percussion, the vocals are extremely far forward in the mix, so ignoring them or at least trying not to focus on them is extremely difficult.
Despite glimpses of past glories and a few riffs that embody that the Horna of old, Hengen tulet is one of, if not the, weakest album in Horna’s discography. With that in mind, the songwriting and instrumentation remains miles ahead of many middling black metal outfits: that could be what is most painful about Horna’s current status. Shatraug can still right some mean riffs and the band can certainly play, but the weak production and Spellgoth’s terrible vocal performance really hold the band back. Hengen tulet might be enjoyable to the passing black metal fan, but those thoroughly familiar with the band’s legacy shouldn’t get their hopes up too much.