Review: Helrunar – Vanitas Vanitatvm
Blistering blood-drenched black metal.
Germany’s Helrunar look back on a history of about 15 years, and it shows in the expert execution of their craft. Their new offering Vanitas Vanitatvm once more makes it apparent that they’ve long left behind not only the lo-fi dabbling of their peers, but to some extent, black metal as a whole, and certainly the “pagan black metal” tag attached to them in their early career. Here’s where I would’ve liked to tell you to convince yourself with an exclusive premiere, but we were too slow confirming the slot amid the perpetual torrent of emails and some inferior blog got the pleasure, so here’s me making do(o).
So what are you in for with these guys and why did I say that about leaving black metal behind? To fill the page, for one thing, but also because Helrunar sport influences from other extreme genres consistently enough to create a blend that’s truly their own. A somber intro sets the mood for the measured buildup of “Saturnus”, which soon erupts into a raging blastbeat, replete with buzzsaw guitar that makes the music seem surprisingly akin to death metal. The same goes for the vocals, which would not seem too out of place on one of the modern, psyched-out death metal records and sometimes drop down to outright growls. I wouldn’t call this psychedelic, mind you, but they certainly succeed in conjuring a dark, creepy atmosphere. Take for example the surging, winding riffs in “In Eis und Nacht”, which are not unlike something Thantifaxath would do.
Countering the aforementioned growls, the other extreme in the vocal department are spoken word passages delivered in a deep, clean voice. These remain an exception up until the extremely doomy “Nachzehrer”, where they take center stage. Lyrics are in German all throughout, so I would love to hear how this song feels to someone who doesn’t speak the language. To me, it sounds creepy as hell, not least because the flowery, poetic language makes it a little hard to discern whether it’s about literal or figurative cannibalism. I wonder if that effect is lessened or increased for non-natives.
The one exception to the lanuage barrier is one English line at the very end of “Blutmond”, which is perhaps my personal favourite. The bright, thrashy riff at the beginning soon makes way for tremolo picking, then returns throughout the verses, shifts, and mixes with the black metal riffing, all the while creating a certain sense of urgency. Lines like “Das Vertraute ist zerschwiegen” also show off Helrunar’s penchant for neologisms, “zerschwiegen” translating to something like “dissilenced”. This doesn’t come off as a gimmick but rather adds to the band’s idiosyncrasy.
I mentioned that the band has shed the “pagan” tag, and I think by now you’ll agree that this is not the folky, nature-oriented fare one would expect from a pagan black metal act. The music feels decidedly more modern with the sharp, sometimes downright angular guitars, and the lyrics, while making plenty use of archaic language, don’t hail Nothern gods and don’t decry Christianity – if anything, humanity as a whole is the target. “Da brachen aus…” describes in yummy detail a plague besetting a community, while “Als die Welt zur Nacht sich wandt” tells of humankind bringing about their own doom by essentially being sacks of shit worthy of punishment. Nothing altogether new, perhaps, but done extremely well – which, incidentally, describes the album as a whole quite nicely. A fresh, crisp take on black metal that doesn’t venture miles outside the box but at the very least runs circles around it.