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Vonulfsreich - Hyperborian Hills (Reissue) Award winner

Hyperborian Hills (Reissue)
by Kira Schlechter at 06 July 2020, 12:31 AM

Described as everything from archaic black metal to “forest thrash” to “necrofolk,” you kind of get the idea that you’ll be hearing something firmly out of the ordinary with “Hyperborean Hills,” a reissue of the only full-length album to date of the Finnish band VONULFSREICH. But in reality, the 2017 effort is quite listenable. Actually, more than quite.

While the opener, “Ruumiskirja,” might be detuned as per usual, there is a definite guitar melody and a definite groove firmly in place. And it’s mixed very clearly instrumentally speaking – Yonulf’s vocals, all in Finnish, are customarily undermixed and barely audible. It changes keys ever so slightly in the second section; another section picks up speed just a little and the drums get a bit more shaded in the mix (and there’s a good variety of drums, both high and low end). You never lose the tasty guitar strumming throughout – the tempo might change, but the riff melody remains constant.

This is not as hard-core experimental as a lot of black metal I’ve heard recently in that it has structure aplenty. They are actually adept at crafting a SONG, which might be a dirty word in the genre – I mean, there aren’t verses and choruses as we know them, of course, but the tracks make sense and give your ears something fun to listen to, which is what it’s all about. Maybe that innate sense of melody is a Finnish thing and is inescapable if you’re a Finn, but I’m glad for it.

“Vonulfsreich” is a bit faster but still has that guitar riff tune you can clearly make out, and the second section follows the same formula. When it changes keys, the riffing carries on – it’s cathartic in that repetition and it keeps your ears engaged. A rather catchy punk groove segues into a slower section where you can clearly hear the drumstick work keeping time before another meaty groove sets in. There’s moments where it pauses and eases, but it always goes back to it.

Two little blasters show the band’s punk bent. “Rankaiseva kasi,” a little over two minutes, is whipcrack fast and very low-fi, with the vocals blurted and slurred out, but again there’s a discernible guitar melody. There’s a part where the vocal is just about spoken as the rhythm changes ever so slightly before it picks up speed again. And later, “Gyromantia,” at just a tad over a minute, is pure punk – chaotic, super-duper fast, no melody, just kicking out the jams with the vocals pretty much vomited out. There’s one freakish guitar solo with boatloads of treble before it barrels to an end. It’s not really a track, but  more like an interlude.

“Vaellus” features more melodic guitar and a slower, almost casual groove. When it picks up, the melody is still there, then it easily slips back to the slower groove. That fast part gets even faster, but the melody remains – their transitions are impressively seamless. It slows way down and gets very sparse, with a buzzing, extremely detuned guitar fuzzing away to a single tom beat, before it’s fleshed out and moved into yet another guitar melody. The final chug is really appealing and there’s very apparent bass going on too before it ends with an emphatic bass plunk.

“Surumarssi” has Yonulf punching its swinging, straight-ahead metal groove along perfectly with his stickwork, firmly leading the way. His vocals definitely qualify as punk here as he grunts them out against an echoing backdrop, but the swing never lets up even when it changes keys a few times (which again is done really well). Halfway through, we change moods into a slower, lusher feel with a wonderful solo guitar before it settles into more melodic riffing. Everything stops at the end for a detuned bass solo that fades out the track – an interesting touch for it to take center stage, even for a moment, in a genre where it’s usually buried.

“Soil” again features a solid guitar melody, one bordering on traditional metal – it’s so cool how they can go from the previous track, “Gyromantia,” to this. The groove they settle into is booted along by the bass and more of that airtight drumming and the triplet riffing is super tasty. It goes into a swinging section that changes the melody again, and then the groove changes to one equally as tasty and similar to the first. The grooves in here are so good, in fact, that I forgot about the vocals entirely. Back to the swing, lush with melody, and then a doomy slow break with stellar, soulful guitar and great cymbal work wraps things up. I was disappointed when this one was over, which is always a good sign – I wound up playing it twice.

“Jarvi” lastly is an ear-catching instrumental set to a slow stomp. You can just get lost in the strength and solidity of the grooves and the melodies, and the drums carry each modulation along so well. The groove remains as the keys change ever so slightly until they return to the beginning one, then they go through the modulations again. It slows and elongates halfway in a “bridge” that’s made dark and jagged with stabs of treble guitar.

Put very simply, I don’t usually care for black metal. I cared for this. Quite a bit. Especially since VONULFSREICH went out on a limb and wrote SONGS. And produced them beautifully. Well done.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Ruumiskirja
2. Vonulfsreich
3. Rankaiseva kasi
4. Vaellus
5. Surumarssi
6. Gyromantia
7. Soil
8. Jarvi
Yonulf - Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Drums, Kantele
Fogg - Guitar, Bass
Lempo - Spirit
Record Label: Fallen Temple


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Edited 24 March 2023

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