Black metal has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance as of late. As Scandinavian genre founders began to experiment with their music’s boundaries back in the late 90’s, and were soon joined by like-minded but distinct acts from across the pond, the stage was set for the recent explosion of experimental and progressive black metal that has swept through the scene like an unstoppable force. Helvellyn’s debut EP – Hordes of White Light – flies in the face of all of that.
Hailing from Cumbria (as the name might suggest, unless, like me, your geography really isn’t much to write home about), Helvellyn are a true back-to-basics black metal band. Wearing their influences on their sleeves, early listens will no doubt evoke comparisons to such genre classics as Dark Throne’s Transilvanian Hunger and Burzum’s Filosofem, and anyone feeling starved of a bit of the raw, biting tones of the past masters should feel right at home here. The minor chords are out in full swing, there is judicious use of tremolo picking, and yes… you can’t hear the bass.
That is not to say that Helvellyn’s homage is perfect, however. While it’s clear that efforts have been made to capture the under-produced and low fidelity sound that so distinguished the black metal bands of the early 90’s, the production on this record often feels a little flat and – oddly – clinical. The drums in particular have a very synthetic sound that will lead many to question whether they have been programmed, and this contributes massively to a sense that the tracks have been recorded in a studio and had their quality reduced digitally.
The song-writing itself is solid if a little unexceptional. The titular first track kicks off proceedings with suitable lustre, but can’t keep the momentum going for its entire 4:19 minute playing time, while follow-up ‘In The Shadows’ suffers from a weak driving riff and lack of variety. By far the standout tracks are the final two: ‘Sacramental Violations’ (Parts I and II). The guitar work here is simple but effective, and the last six minutes or so surge forward with stubborn and brutal energy. The bridge between the two tracks is particularly well handled, and with the obvious display of quality here it’s a pity that the other two tracks don’t quite reach these giddy heights.
However, one area in which Hordes of White Light is consistently excellent is that of frontman P.’s vocals. Ferocious and undeniably hateful, they strike right to the heart of what Black Metal is all about: a chaotic and discordant outpouring of negative emotion. Oddly enough, the production here has been handled incredibly well compared to the rest of the mix, with P.’s guttural screams having a muted and distorted character, the EQ tuned well in favour of the high-end. The result is a filth-laden tone that any of the greats would be proud of.
As a whole, Hordes of White Light is an underwhelming endeavour, but one that shows seeds of promise. With a solid stock of riffs and edgier production, Helvellyn could yet succeed in their goal of getting back to the genre’s dark roots.
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Scribed by: Calum Darroch