Album Title: Helfró
Label: Season Of Mist Underground Activists
Date of Release: 24 April 2020
I’m a sucker for several things, but two weaknesses I have are well-executed black metal and Iceland. It means that when these two weaknesses combine, I am compelled to investigate. On this occasion, the combination has brought Helfró to my attention and ultimately, to this review. When I say that I love black metal, I’ll be honest and admit to it being at the more melodious end of the spectrum, possibly more into the realms of black metal that the purists would sniff at disdainfully. Helfró is not of that ilk however, not even remotely.
To digress slightly, I swear with the amount of bands coming out of Iceland, that the entire country is involved in some shape or form with music, with the majority of those plying their trade in the heavy metal sphere. It’s crazy. Mind you, in the case of Helfró, there are just three protagonists, so they are not being overly greedy when it comes to the scarce human resources that number less than half a million.
Here, the line-up sees Ragnar S (Composition, drums, vocals) team up with Símon Þ: (Arrangements, guitars, bass, vocals), with Gísli S brought in to provide some clean vocals. The press release talks of Helfró’s music being an ‘aural attack’ and, to some extent, I’d say that’s very apt. This isn’t fluffy, warm or inviting music; the eight compositions that barely extend over the 36-minute mark, are icy cold, inhospitable and savage. At first listen, there is little to discern past the fast, scything guitar riffs and unrelenting blastbeats, leaving you a little overwhelmed and intimidated.
But lo and behold, what is this that I can hear as I listen for a second and third time? Is that a hint of melody? Is there something to this music other than cold brutality? Yes, it’s definitely melody. It is hidden well, but it is there and I can hear echoes of the rugged beauty of the untamed and barren Icelandic wilderness through the oppressive onslaught.
Opener ‘Afeitun’ comes at you like a maelstrom of venomous poison once the ominous, slithering intro is done turning your blood glacial. It’s a vicious tumult of rage and sadistic intent, with Ragnar S’ bitter, rasping diatribes spewing forth with as much power as the music that surrounds his voice. But listen carefully and there is an early staccato-led Dissection-esque melodic vein to be heard just beneath the surface. There’s even a smart, stomping section later on that allows the vocals to plummet to the gravelly depths, a nice hint of variation to an otherwise insane pummelling.
If anything, ‘Ávöxtur af rotnu tré’ is an even more brutal assault upon the ears. It feels like the absolute darkness of the Icelandic wastelands are let loose to terrorise anything and everything in it’s path. I sense a vague progressive tinge within the song however, whilst the introduction of clean chant-like vocals from Gísli S is both hypnotic and a welcome change of direction, however brief it may be.
‘Eldhjarta’ is another exercise in face-melting but I really like the sense of oppressive atmosphere that still manages to emanate from the track. The lead guitar notes feel like they are more prominent, helping to underline the raw chill that acts like the common thread throughout the record. And then the first pronounced change occurs via ‘Þrátt fyrir brennandi vilja’, which lowers the pace just a little, at least to begin with. There’s a chunkier feel to the central riffs due to the slower speed and, as a result, a few doomier sounds emerge. But it’s short-lived as the blasts and fast-picked riffing returns to see out the song.
This is definitely an album that requires some stamina because the more you listen, the more you get out of it and the more you discover; at least, that’s the feeling I get at any rate. Little subtle aspects, like the chugging riff and synth sounds that materialise late within Þegn hinna stundlegu harma, a song that’s a lot more melodic than it first appears. Or the re-introduction of those incredibly resonant clean vocals within ‘Hin forboðna alsæla’ that have a supremely eerie quality to them.
It also has to be said that the album has a near-perfect production for this kind of music; thanks to Stephen Lockhart’s production at Studio Emissary, there is enough clarity within the mix to allow your ears to start picking out the small subtleties that exist with the songs themselves. And that’s half the fun to be honest; I seem to notice something new and intriguing on each and every spin so far.
Essentially, what I’m trying to say is don’t be put off by the apparently impenetrable cacophony from Helfró. Give this self-titled debut the time and attention that it deserves and the rewards are there to be reaped. Although, if you are looking for some uncompromising black metal to bludgeon you into a coma whilst in pandemic-induced lockdown, ‘Helfró’ is good for that too. Just sayin’.
The Score of Much Metal: 83%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: