Saturday, 16 October 2010

Helgrindr - Cold Might Of Winter War (1999) 70/100.

Helgrindr are another early 1990’s black metal band whom were simply lost in time during a period when the scene was commanded by the Scandinavian legions. Helgrindr are not alone. There’s an endless list of early to mid 1990’s black metal bands who couldn’t keep their head above water as the tidal wave of Scandinavian bands swept them away. France, considered as one of the leading forces in the modern black metal scene, was only beginning to insert its influence on metal in the 90’s but mostly through the infamous Les Légions Noires movement, a branch of dark ambient meets black metal music that Helgrindr were not attached to. This debut album, entitled ‘Cold Might of Winter War’, is actually a really refreshing find amidst all the old school acts of the 90’s who were simply recycling what the well known groups like Burzum, Darkthrone and Immortal were doing. Helgrindr weren’t opposed to turning their backs on the bandwagon, as this album clearly suggests.

Tagged appropriately as atmospheric black metal, Helgrindr’s refreshing stance on black metal is one that is overlooked nowadays with the rise of bands like Summoning, an act who Helgrindr remind me of slightly. Unlike Summoning, Helgrindr were never granted their time in the spot light, despite the fact that the two have a few things in common. This album reminds me specifically of the older Summoning material, like ‘Lugburz’, but without being as mediocre as that particular Summoning album. Although there are some obvious ties to Summoning, Helgrindr weren’t afraid to experiment during a time when black metal was only beginning to move away from the second wave and into the modern day scene where bands are attempting all sorts of genre integrations and meshing. Unlike Summoning, for example, Helgrindr use a female vocalist alongside the typically male performance.

Although her role is restricted to an infrequent burst of cleanly spoken/sung segments, this small ploy on the part of Helgrindr actually makes them a lot more varied than Summoning were in their early days. The rasped/shrieked vocals are still present, though they’re not the only type of male vocals we’re introduced to on this album. As songs like ‘Funeral Blizzard Storm’ indicates, Helgrindr use a variety of vocals throughout the course of the album. From the shrieks, to the female vocals and finally onto some sparse chanted male vocals in a very clean form. Helgrindr’s approach could be considered rather innovative in its day. Some might even call it ahead of its time, especially given how well bands like Summoning have been received in the early to mid 2000’s. This album, like Summoning’s earliest showings showcased, uses majestic keyboards as the backbone to the atmosphere. Each song consists of majestic, natural sounding soundscapes through the use of keyboards applied alongside fellow clean aspects like female vocals, as shown on songs like ‘Beasts Coming From The Coldness’.

The song titles seem to suggest something a little more clichéd is to be expected but Helgrindr’s style is still very much alive and kicking today. There’s no knowing how well Helgrindr would have evolved seeing as they broke-up just after the turn of the century but there are certainly areas of this album which desperately needed refining before they could command a reputation akin to acts like Austria’s Summoning. The production, for example, is poor. It’s very underwhelming and underdeveloped. The production is quite raw, something which perhaps isn’t surprising of a French band, but the music is crying out for a cleaner production, one which can competently and consistently handle the cleaner elements - including the female vocals and clean male chants, two aspects which can often be drowned out by the heavy distortion of the guitars and the apparent lo-fi sound. The production isn’t too damaging, thankfully. It allows areas like the keyboards, which supply some beautiful piano based sections on songs like ‘Beasts Coming From The Cold’, to flourish more often than not. The performance of the keyboardist isn’t exactly as exquisite as that of Charmand Grimloch for Tartaros, for example, but it will do.

Areas like the bass only function as a back-up to the guitars and are somewhat audible beneath the heavy distortion of the guitars. The bass isn’t all that integral, so there isn’t much to worry about when it goes missing during the course of songs. The drumming is generally mid to fast paced and competent. It’s largely overshadowed by the three prominent performances on the album - 1) The guitars 2) The vocals and 3) The keyboards. The bass and drumming isn’t entirely essential but it does occasionally come to the forefront on songs like the self-titled when the drums supply a catchy beat or two and the bass injects a bit more creativity. However, it is soon overshadowed by the acoustic work of the guitars and the epic keyboards with their shimmering atmospherics. This is an album which has its problems and which I wouldn’t consider an “undiscovered gem”, but it’s still worthy of a couple of spins, especially for fans of Summoning and the like.

No comments:

Post a Comment