Black metal is fast: blast beats, howling winds, shrieking demons. Doom metal is slow: down-tuned riffs, horrors of R’lyeh, clouds of weed smoke. You wouldn’t think those two things would blend too well, now, would you? Well, they actually can create some pretty great music if blended in the right way, but it’s a balance that’s tricky to maintain for a long time. Most bands just end up going for one or the other.
German duo Helrunar has decided to experiment with the slower elements of doom/death with their fourth full-length, Niederkunfft. The style is a big change from their last work, the double album Sól, which had a much more black/pagan feeling to it. This time around, the band has taken a far darker, grimier approach, throwing out almost all of the black metal elements they used to employ. It’s only partially successful. Helrunar’s biggest fault has always been their tendency to overplay what should be simple concepts, and that certainly holds back Niederkunfft from being a better example of the style.
Most of the time, Niederkunfft has an extremely serious attitude. The German lyrics deliver that angular, harsh sound that the language is known for, and this works much better in a bludgeoning, Asphyx-inspired presentation than it does in a more pagan one. “Totentanz” serves as a typical example of what Helrunar has to offer. The song reaches over four minutes before any sort of speed is even introduced to the proceeding, though, and it’s nearly an eight-minute track. The second half has a lot more energy, and makes the listener wish that they had introduced more fierceness early on. “Totentanz” is the third track on the album, and the first two contained even less of a speedy edge. The band has been slowing down for years, but at least Sól could be considered a hybrid style.
Track four is the unfortunately titled “Devils, Devils Everywhere!” which is the first song performed in English. This manages to make the song less menacing and more silly. It is, however, the first track that starts out with some real speed and energy before going into sludgy doom territory. The band here has more in common with October Tide or Doom:VS than their own back catalog. I personally like those bands, but it feels like Helrunar is playing outside of their strengths.
“Magdeburg brennt” is the shortest proper song on the album, and is also a big improvement from “Devils, Devils…” Here the band starts out with melody and slow crushing riffs before bringing in high-tempo sections. It’s here that you realize that there really is nothing left of the old pagan band. The fast elements have more in common with Entombed and the aforementioned Asphyx than they do with Bathory or Falkenbach and the slow elements almost completely overwhelm.
Most of the time, the band just goes on for too long. On the final track, which is the longest (and the second song in English), however, they actually manage to push past the “too long for what it is” into the “hypnotic drones” that I feel they ought to have introduced far earlier in the proceedings.
All things said, it’s clear that Niederkunfft is new territory for the band, but it’s not territory that they’re owning with conviction. Perhaps as they continue to explore doom/death, they’ll get better at it, but personally if I want to listen to a Helrunar album I’m going to reach for Sól. Here’s hoping that they bring back more of the pagan/black elements in their next work.
02) Der Endchrist
04) Devils, Devils Everywhere!
05) Magdeburg Brennt
06) Grimmig Tod
07) Die Kirch ist Umbgekehret
08) The Hiebner Prophecy