Helrunar – Vanitas Vanitatvm Review

Band: Helrunar
Album: Vanitas Vanitatvm
Label: Lupus Lounge
Genre: Pagan Black Metal
Country: Germany
Release Date: September 28th, 2018

I will stand by the assertion that black metal is the most versatile style of metal until I die. I don’t know of any other genre that can combine some of the most abrasive sounds in music with the melodies of shoegaze, the sparseness of ambient music, or even compositional elements of classical music. So naturally, I always enjoy an adventurous black metal album. For the most part, this new Helurnar record delivers just that. Being not only a black metal band but also a pagan metal band gives these guys plenty of room to explore the entire spectrum of sonic abrasion. The record stands at just over an hour in length, and save for three songs, every track is well over five minutes. I found that prospect rather exciting, and I went into this record intrigued to see how this band, that’s seven records in at this point, would fill up all of their time.

The songs on this record are all mostly well-paced and feature some solid compositions overall. The first full-length track is the eight-minute Saturnus. It begins with a nice blackened intensity that lasts until around the four-minute mark, when these sludgy riffs pop-up and make the track feel like a blackened war march. It’s also one of many songs to feature a surprisingly calm transition phase, before sliding right back into the chaos. Blutmond does something similar, the entire song seems like it will start to fade as some softly plucked acoustics prop up around the five-minute mark. However, the track quickly ditches that idea for a killer finish. Als die Welt zur Nacht sich wandt feels like a pretty standard pagan black metal track but comes across particularly well because of how sharp the playing and vocals are throughout its duration.

Two songs on this album are particular standouts to me. First, the third track, and my favorite song on the entire album, Lotophagoi. The track has the same overwhelming intensity that a lot of European blackened death metal does. However, it avoids stagnation by never resting on one musical passage for more than a minute and making frequent use of drum fills and solos to weave between its phases. As a result, it’s a six-minute track that feels more like a two-minute one. It also has a stellar finish with some nasty chants in the last minute. Next, is the eighth track Nachzehrer. The song is the least intense of the longer cuts on the record but it’s easily the most sinister song on the whole thing. It’s basically a doom metal song with spoken word vocals. However, it has almost a Godspeed vibe with how atmospheric and apocalyptic the composition is. Structurally, the song is hyper repetitive, with very little changing throughout the eight-minute duration. However, the repetition is more hypnotic than anything and really lulled me into a trance. I would say that both of these songs are probably two of the best tracks of the entire year.

My favorite parts of this album overall are the vocal performances. The moments on this record that I think are musically compelling are only enhanced by how hard the vocals rip, and moments that I don’t find to be particularly engaging are mostly saved by the demonic roars and growls. Additionally, spoken word is used frequently on this album, it comes off purely evil every single time. Vocally, this record was one of the best of the year and I found it quite refreshing.

As much as I enjoy most of this album, there are some definite flaws that really pulled me out of it. It’s always a challenge to keep tracks that are as long as the ones on this album consistently interesting, and sadly Helrunar does not pull that off on every song here. There are several tracks that, despite promising momentum, don’t do anything all that interesting. Songs like Da brachen aus böse Blattern, am Menschen und am Vieh and In Eis und Nacht (the latter of which has an obnoxiously loud symbol that rings out towards the end) are nice sounding but end up being boring because of how few unique things they bring to the table. The worst offender is the longest song Necropolis. This is the only truly bad song, despite the vocals being solid. The song features nothing interesting and simply fades into an extended outro which leads into the tragically anti-climatic closer on the album, which really left me unsatisfied and wanting more. Even though these songs aren’t awful, they do seriously harm the flow and momentum of the record.

Overall, I would call this a very good record, despite the problems that I have with it. It’s always nice to hear bands experiment with sounds outside the norm for their genres, and I felt like Helrunar delivered something legitimately interesting with this album. I would easily recommend this record to anyone looking for something menacing, that doesn’t just try to just beat you over the head with sound.

Rating: 8.0/10

1. Es ist ein sterbendt Liecht
2. Saturnus
3. Lotophagoi
4. Blutmond
5. Da brachen aus böse Blattern, am Menschen und am Vieh
6. Vanitas Vanitatvm
7. In Eis und Nacht
8. Nachzehrer
9. Als die Welt zur Nacht sich wandt
10. Necropolis
11. Der Tag an dem das Meer seine Toten freigibt

Total Playing Time: 1:02:36

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