After two years of being silent in the depths of the murky realm of Hel, Ørjan Nordvik and his comrades went up to the surface for a while to announce they are alive and ready to bring in some fresh stuff to the still growing mythology-inspired Metal genre. The mentioned “while” is as a matter of fact not a usual glimpse of an eye as one could initially presume but a pretty lengthy moment of about 35 minutes of playing time which, however, bears the name of an EP (but this did not have to be so proudly announced on the album slipcase).
From the very first contact with “Åsgards Fall,” the recipient can see that something is different in comparison to HELHEIM's latest works. The band’s logo has been changed into a one that looks less solid and does not have associations with soulless pounding mechanical clockwork. What we have is a more aggressive image with sharp lines and edges, slightly ragged and bringing to mind pictures of razors. Indeed, when listening to the song that heralds the coming of HELHEIM’s new album one can see that there is a nice coherence between the visual plane and the musical one. Generally, the band's sound and compositions seem to be a bit more spiritual, the focus is set on creating an atmosphere which influences the listener so that he or she may imagine the pagan stories of HELHEIM's forefathers as something still relevant and present. Certain musical innovations (still on the background of the band’s latest releases) are on one hand present in the core of this mini-cd that consists of two monumental title compositions and on the other hand in the Black Metal touch found in “Dualitet Og Ulver”. The latter is admittedly not a track that would fit the content of “Jormundgand” – a bit more polished sound, perhaps too explicit melodies and the key section – yet as this track heralds the coming of Norwegians' new full-length one can presume a sort of come back to the past deeds with some additional contents. The composition itself is very engaging and I would not be surprised if it became the group's new live show killer. The vocal section here is nicely build with V'gandr and H'grimnir changing their duties in the stanzas and TAAKE's Ulvhedin H. contributing in the final part of the track, perhaps the most energizing one, including also a decent solo played on the background of the song's core theme.
As for the first and second part of “Åsgard's Fall”, it is the epic feeling and lengthy structures that matter. One does not even have to read the band's statement on dedicating these songs to Tomas Forsberg in order to have associations with BATHORY. It is especially the other of these two where the references to the mentioned Swedish classic are most explicit thanks to the slow-mid tempo, pounding rhythm section and the choir arrangements. The level of epic grandeur can indeed match that of some of BATHORY's best works. Although long, neither of the tracks bores. They are varied not only by instrumental structures – aggressive riffing, melancholic picking on a synth background, pace changes, solos – but also by combining different vocal efforts and even an excerpt from a film.
The two parts of “Åsgards Fall” are separated by an instrumental passage that in a very fine way explores the area of Progressive Rock, something that HELHEIM is definitely not associated with. The guitar tracks used in this medley go through the air filling it with nostalgia and truly artistic vibe. All the regular tracks including the re-recorded “Jernskog” are granted a warm sound that emphasises the mood of the album, especially the contemplative nature of certain of its fragments. The warmth present in this music does not of course mean it is totally deprived of being organic, but it seems as a matter of fact equally far from being overproduced and from being repugnantly raw. In addition to this I have to mention another short track being a musical representation of the next level of the world of Helheim. Here, an apparently shamanic rite is being conducted with rhythmic mouth harp playing, drumming and magical formulas being uttered in an engaged manner.
Lyrically, as indicated earlier, HELHEIM oscillate around the pre-Christian beliefs of Scandinavian societies. In the track taken from the forthcoming album the topic is approached in a direct way by treating the motif of the two wolves chasing the personified sun and moon. The band's lyrics writer, V'gandr - Ørjan Nordvik, indicates here also the meaning of the myth. The title compositions, in turn, take up the mythological sphere from the point of view of its creators – people. The main focus is not set on certain deities or their deeds but on individuals who abandoned, forgot, have not been aware of or neglected the Old Norse myths and culture with their values and morals in favour of monotheistic religious systems.
Apart from the strictly lyrical and musical side of the mcd, I find the artwork here very decent. A clear link is made to the motif of the fall or destruction as we can see three characters – representing probably some Norse gods – on the cover falling under the burden of a rock. Also inside the booklet there are some interesting references to the apocalyptic theme of the mentioned wolves and their celestial prey. One of these images includes some fragments of a work by John Charles Dollman, something that makes the band’s effort even more expressive.
This mini-album from HELHEIM brings definitely some new quality to their music. The topics they deal with remain generally the same and I guess especially many fans of metal influenced by Old Norse myths will be glad about this release. If the song heralding the coming of the new album is one of many of this kind, then “Åsgards Fall” may be even considered as a work that marks a really new period for HELHEIM. All in all a very interesting appetizer before the main course.
(Online February 13, 2011)