For the past two albums my interest in THYRFING had been on the wane, for a good part due to Thomas Väänänen’s voice getting harsher and more unrelenting as time went by, so when their latest effort “Hels Vite” reached me, I was interested, but not really enthused. Then I read that Väänänen had left the band and was replaced by former NAGLFAR fronter Jens Rydén, which left me rather undecided as to what to expect from the Swedes, but it did not take long until I realized that any expectation I might have had would have been horribly wrong anyways, because it definitely would not have been THIS that I had in mind!
THYRFING anno 2008 are darker, slower and at times also more epic again than they’ve been in the more recent past and while Rydén’s voice also is exclusively harsh, it seems to have a more expressive quality than Väänänen’s had in the later stages, which adds to the volume of the song, as he doesn’t just scream everything into submission. And while the music sounds closer to older THYRFING, it not a return to their old sound, as the keyboards take on a far more subtle role than on, say, “Valdr Galga”, but still are important to the overall atmosphere, instead everything sounds somewhat more menacing and brooding, away from the sometimes almost happy Folk melodies of their past. And while moving even further away from the classical Viking Metal, they manage to maintain a steadiness in their evolution that still marks them as THYRFING, just progressed from their beginnings.
It is good to see that the Swedes are changing, but without forsaking their identity, they just approach things differently and utilize different weapons to reach their goal. The overall feeling definitely is colder, more desolate than in the past, but still there are some moments of warmth and relief, like on “Från Stormens Öga”, where a warm keyboard melody gives you a brief respite from the bleak outlook surrounding you. And here Rydén’s voice also comes into play again, as he manages to portray different moods, somewhere between aggression and despair, furthering the atmosphere of the album, just like the keyboards do not carry the lead melodies anymore, but add their piece to the puzzle. The often slow tempo and far more basic instrumentation works wonders on “Hels Vite”, going hand in hand with the re-focused lyrical content, which has shifted from the Vikings to the dark side(s) of life, it actually would be interesting to see a movie reflecting this music as a soundtrack, as “Isolation” at times almost reminds me of music that could accompany a film, a very desolate one, but still, so if anybody feels inspired enough, I would really like to see what that would look like!
The plodding rhythm of the title track is another remnant of THYRFING’s past and goes hand in hand with the quiet middle part that suddenly takes off intensity and almost makes you feel as if you are floating in zero gravity for a moment or two, before resuming the doomy and elegiac flow of the song, one of the best songs of the band in years! And “Griftefrid” continues the imagery of a desperate figure marching through deep snow in the middle of nowhere, with an icy wind blowing down from the hills, with the small, almost frozen snowflakes like needles on your skin, the skies a dark, grey mass of swirling clouds, giving you the feeling of desolation, despair and utter hopelessness. Many Doom bands would kill to be able to build up an atmosphere like that, I tell you!
“Becoming The Eye” is the only track that doesn’t really click with me, because it is the one song that gets pretty repetitive and seems to almost drone in my ears after a while, but that’s just a minor complaint, because overall I am tempted to say that “Hels Vite” is close to being THYRFING’s strongest album, for now “Urkraft” stays in the number one position, maybe just because I have heard it way more often, but be it as it may, this is a very strong album by a band that continues to evolve and mature, I don’t even think that you can still call this Viking Metal, it is rather a mix of Black, Viking and Doom Metal, but however you want to label this, this is strong stuff!
(Online January 24, 2009)