Nostalgia. The yearning for some long-vanished swathes of time. Events you once enjoyed, and somehow they still feel good today. And you (kind of) wish to travel back in time and be there again. The feeling is some sort of retroactive déjà-vu, a vague sentiment of useless comfort – most of the time. But in reality all of that is lost in the corridors of time. And will never, ever come back.
Or will it?
Because the German Black Metallers Helrunar serve a very special ritual with their 7th full length record Vanitas Vanitatvm (vanity of vanities). The record really digs about the dark corners of the Scandinavian Black Metal scene of the ’90s. Not quite wave one, but kind of there nonetheless. Hints of Burzum’s Filosofem, edges of Bathory, Gorgoroth or Mayhem. The list could go on. Ah, the memories of burning churches, murders in rival bands and one of the darkest hours in metal, if not one of the juiciest. Because Black Metal matured and really thrived after that, and still does to this day.
This is the shroud Helrunar cloaks itself in, taking freely from the defunct without stealing outright. But to just send them back to the church burners would be a trifle too easy. Vanitas Vanitatvm really grabs the genre by its underbelly. From ritualistic antics Darkend style, over Balfor‘s crunch, all is there. In some moments of hysteria, the guitar works sometimes resembles what Finsterforst does. And it tells me where these folks actually locate themselves. But. We. Ain’t. Going. There. No, sir. Because the latter have an identity problem. But I transgress, this would be for another article.
But for some reason Vanitas Vanitatvm just refuses to fit into this comfortable, standard Black Metal robe.
For instance, the band will treat you to an almost Heavy Metal sounding pseudo-solo in Da brachen aus böse Blattern. And they have a thing with them solos. Like in In Eis und Nebel, where the band surprises with a riff / solo overlay. This is – by the way – pretty irregular in the metal multiverse. And – for sure – in a Black Metal setting that usually shuns this kind of practice in favor of sticking to the cvltish underground.
But this rebel streak does not stop there. Vanitas Vanitatvm continues to agitate the pvre black, seething world of the fiery pit. This time with ever returning acoustics, some ambient interventions and darkly disturbing clear-voice monologues. How could they do that in a Black Metal concoction, right? Well, fact is that this isn’t one in the proper sense. Of all its predecessors, the album probably leans the most into the realm of the Dark Lord. Yet with all its undercurrents, ’tis a work of Extreme Metal, gallivanting about their soundscape of dread to tell their story. Another main pillar to the success of this album.
I really like the darkly ambient, ghoulish style of Nachzehrer with this abominable monologue / dialogue. A track so Gothic that the starkly Victorian painting almost drowns in blood, decayed flesh and necrophiliac urges. This is a welcome discovery. Many a Gothic Metal purist leans towards a synthesized, pop-leaning style nowadays and forgets the meaning of ‘dark’ in the tune. But here Helrunar‘s mid-tempo, almost doom-ish, yet meaty style of this track morphs it into one of the best on Vanitas Vanitatvm.
And this track and – indeed – the record would not get its current praise without the lyrics. Dark, gruesome, blood-thirsty – the words really paint some pretty bloodcurdling picture. The band clearly put a lot of effort into their story and on purpose in an exaggerated fashion. From sagas and lores from different areas of the globe to quotes from ‘Simplicius Simplicissimus’, the band really dug deep to inject some darkly foreboding meaning into their tune. You’d have to learn German, though, if you really want to understand. But even without any knowledge of them wretched Teutonic utterings you’ll get the gist of the message.
All is vain in Vanitas Vanitatvm, and nothing is sacred, it truly – and juicily – seems. Sometimes sporting a traditional, yet starkly illuminated brand of Black Metal, sometimes exploring Thrash Metal hunting grounds, sometimes going Heavy Metal and Hard Rock or again hitting rock bottom on Gothic underground. This is the Extreme Metal soundscape that this record thrives in. And it thrives well.
A soundscape of confusing proportions, of ever-changing styles. A whirlwind of elements and dark emotions depicted in a landscape of dreary colors. Helrunar created one of the better Extreme Metal pieces we came across so far this year. This is yet another offering you need to be in the mood for, lest it will drive you to despair. And this is – by the way – yet another positive point. Mission accomplished, as we say.
Vanitas Vanitatvm, omnia vanitas. Indeed a fitting name for a great blackened Extreme Metal album. We truly enjoyed delving into it.
The record released on 28 September 2018.
And congrats! The album successfully made it onto the Intermittent Digest – Tome VIII.