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Hjelvik – Welcome To Hel

Welcome To Hel
by Ian Yeara at 31 January 2021, 7:38 PM

Alright, HJELVIK is a Heavy Metal band from Norway with their lyrical themes being entirely based on Norse mythology. You’ll pardon me if I don’t gasp with surprise and astonishment, maybe I’m just getting cynical, but with the number of generic Norse mythology albums I’ve heard in the last year, you’d be skeptical too. Even as a Norse Pagan it can be hard not to roll my eyes at the lyrical themes, especially when some people are still trying to make Viking Metal be a thing (it’s not a real genre, stop calling it that).

HJELVIK does have some originality to them however, the biggest example being the genre/style. The easiest way to explain this is that it sounds like traditional Heavy Metal riffs with Black Metal vocals and production, in some ways it almost sounds like we’re going back to the late 80s. The production is pretty thin and cold, allowing that distant sound which typifies Black Metal to creep in, while the music is mostly upbeat and energetic. It really is an interesting dichotomy, not necessarily my cup of tea, but I certainly appreciate the unique approach the band has taken, and this album certainly is not without it’s highlights.

The album starts off well enough with Blackened riffs and powerful guitar harmonies right in your face, very much in a Thrashy Folk Metal kind of style; "Father’s War" makes for an entertaining opener, which is good because personally I do think the album loses some of that steam and energy going forward. "Thor’s Hammer" is kind of weird, it’s focal point is just this cavalcade of screams overlapping each other, until we get to the last minute of the song (it’s a very short song) where the guitar takes over for the solo and actually, the solo is pretty awesome.

When I think of traditional Metal, I think of more Rock and Roll riffs than Metal and I think of simple songwriting, melodies and short songs and that’s what this album does. The guitar swings back and forth between crushing Black Metal riffs and stock standard Hard Rock. I definitely prefer the Metal riffs, but it makes for an interesting contrast of styles.

From the moment I looked at the tracklist though one song stood out to me, "The Power Ballad Of Freyr", even as someone who generally despises power ballads, I just knew that song was going to be awesome, or at least fun. This one mostly uses the Hard Rock riffs, but Rob Steinway, has an excellent sense of style and the fluidity with which he changes style of play is impressive. It’s not a 5/5 song or anything, but it’s a solid, entertaining song with a fun groove.

Now, unfortunately it’s about the mid-point in the album where the songs just kind of start blending together. I listened to "Glory Of Hel" multiple times in a row because I kept missing it and it just held no interest for me; same deal with "12th Spell". I get that some people really like this blending of Black Metal and early 90s rock, but that’s not really what I listen to Black Metal for. I generally prefer my Black Metal to either involve more Folk Metal elements, or to dip into really dissonant and spacey kind of stuff, ala ENSLAVED. The whole middle stretch of this album just does nothing for me, but I’m sure there are those that it will entertain a lot more.

"Kveldulv" gets back into more of the Black Metal sound with more of the dissonant guitar harmonies and generally getting away from the mid-tempo chugging and more shredding which is really when this album shines. "Kveldulv" definitely has a great groove and despite being so short it actually builds to a pretty cool climax and it kept me hooked the whole time. "North Tsar" has a little bit of that chaotic sound and darker atmosphere that I usually expect from my Black Metal and then "Necromance" is just a fun song. It takes a lot of the sounds and grooves from the album and makes for a great summation. This is also the only song to feature clean vocals, which aren’t exactly soaring and emotional, but they fit really well with the harsh shrieks and match the feel of the album as a whole.

For a debut album, this is pretty solid stuff. There are legitimate moments on this album that showed me what this band is capable of, however with the album barely being 40 minutes long it’s disappointing that the middle section is so uninteresting. Like I said before, this guitar player is really good and I think HJELVIK would be smart to unshackle him a bit and really let him be the star of the show. It can be more difficult judging a mixed bag than an outright good or bad album, but this is also a debut album which is always something I take into consideration.

This band has great potential, and I would love to see them go whole hog in combining Hard Rock and Black Metal. I think that could be a really cool blending of genres and it’s important to find some originality in the Metal scene, as it is in the music scene in general and these guys could go far if they take the time and energy to refine their sound.

Songwriting: 5
Musicianship: 8
Memorability: 6
Production: 7

3 Star Rating

1. Father’s War
2. Thor’s Hammer
3. Helgrinda
4. The Power Ballad of Freyr
5. Glory of Hel
6. 12th Spell
7. Ironwood
8. Kveldulv
9. North Tzar
10. Necromance
Alexis Lieu – Bass
Kevin Foley – Drums
Rob Steinway – Guitars
Erlend Hjelvik – Vocals, Songwriting
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records


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