Black metal has always teetered between defiance and surrender to an unforgiving world, a space where spite and anguish blossom in roaring gusts of arctic ice. To capture such a dynamic takes the power of creative spirits that refuse to be restrained, and are instead given the freedom to go all-out in exploring the far reaches of extremity. In a beautiful display of technical prowess and creative vision, Helfró bring forth a debut album which is straightforward in its breadth but carries with it titanic strength in the form of unflinching musicianship. More impressive is that Helfró is a two-man project born from the heart of Iceland, a pair of musicians who have joined in near perfect sync to make an album that is frigid and cinematic in the spirit of old-school black metal but with the polished edge of modernity.
This debut is self-titled, the name “Helfró” boldly defining the style and might of a band which is seeking to find sure footing among other greats in the black metal scene. They have emerged fully formed, skipping the blunders of novices and chipping their sound directly from the core of fury, shrieking guitars coupled with furious speed on drums to create incredible pressure which persists from the very start of “Helfró” to its abrupt end. Though speed alone does not make greatness, Helfró also brings with them songwriting that balances atmospheres and tempos on the cutting edge of technical complexity. Even in the dissonance of frostbitten black metal that gives the style its signature desolation, the splintering riffs of guitarist Símon Þ come across clear enough for listeners to appreciate their meticulous craft.
Technicality is coupled with precision, the furious blast beats of Ragnar’s drums never faltering as the two musicians take turns imparting their tormented howls into the mix. Both Símon’s bass and guitar have reached a careful balance with Ragnar’s drums, the percussive ferocity never drowning out the highly emotive strings. Opening track “Afeitrun” opens with a distant guitar which grows ever closer, the bite to the hook no less than menacing as it rises from the shadowed mists of Helfró’s depravity. Leading with the pure speed that the album is somewhat defined by, nuance emerges in fourth track “Þrátt fyrir brennandi vilja,” featuring a funerary opening punctuated by nothing but a somber drumbeat. The descent into screams is purely cinematic, drawn out through the album’s established dereliction to embrace an even deeper realm of darkness, one where hatred simmers in existential pain. The two musicians have established a symbiotic relationship, giving and taking in such a way where one never dominates the other, but instead combine their intensity to grow to more than the sum of their parts as the brutality of “Þrátt fyrir brennandi vilja” cuts ever deeper.
To add further surprise is the intermittent use of clean vocals, which pierce through the sonic assault on “Ávöxtur af rotnu tré” like the voice from an inescapable nightmare. Rather than singing, the words weave themselves like a chant through the shroud of static Helfró have established. Distant and bleak, they are the perfect and unexpected offset to the developed vocals offered by both Ragnar and Simon in relentless tandem throughout the expanse that “Helfró” traverses in the artist’s native tongue. The use of Icelandic throughout the album gives it a unique dimension and further creates the group’s identity, the language further appreciated through the excellent enunciation offered by both artists as they take dual vocal duties. Dueling vocal pitches marry well with the thick blood of Símon’s bass, a characteristic highly pronounced on penultimate track “Katrín.”
The two tracks which present the strongest sides of Helfró are “Eldhjarta” and closing track “Musteri agans,” a balance between their lightning pace and cinematic foresight in songwriting. Though the album tracks are similar in length, the structure in each of the eight songs is stunningly unique, and few of the passages find themselves repeating. While some black metal enjoys the bitter solace of tranquil repetition, the ever-shifting passages of “Eldhjarta” command the listener’s full attention as Simon spans increasingly intricate avenues of instrumental expression. Grandeur and might are commanded at Símon’s hands, creating the lofted cinematic heights to which “Helfró” reaches in effortless grace. But it is on “Musteri agans” where these heavens are abandoned, the song descending into a cataclysmic barrage of static furor without ever losing the sharp exactness of Ragnar’s percussive execution.
Together Ragnar and Símon have invoked the near perfect abandon of black metal, harnessing the appeals of its bleakness and channeling primal anger into their debut “Helfró.” Careful production has preserved the raw grit of traditional black metal, but a state of constant balance allows technical execution to remain at the forefront of the band’s identity, and even give “Helfró” the opportunity to savor brief moments of the cinematic. Though the album is under forty minutes long, the virtuosos at the helm have created this opus with clarity and definition in such a way that leaves one hungry for more long after the final track comes to a close. Lacking any form of repetition or imitation throughout, Helfró’s stunning debut captivates with its combination of speed and dexterity, all on a background of unforgiving brutality that pushes extremity to its limits.
Released By: Season of Mist
Release Date: April 24th, 2020
Genre: Black Metal
- Ragnar S / Composition, drums, vocals
- Símon Þ / Arrangements, guitars, bass, vocals
- Ávöxtur af rotnu tré
- Þrátt fyrir brennandi vilja
- Þegn hinna stundlegu harma
- Hin forboðna alsæla
- Musteri agans
Capturing the quintessential dereliction of black metal, Helfró offers listeners a taste of the bitter cold layered with compositional complexity and ceaseless drive for speed and brutality. With the benefit of modernity on their side, the creative nuance and atmospheric inflection shine with clarity in a stunning manifestation of arctic extremity.