German pagan black metal act Helrunar have just released their latest album, “Niederkunfft”. The group was formed in 2001 by vocalist Marcel “Skald Draugir” Dreckmann, guitarist Tim “Dionysos” Funke and multi-instrumentalist Sebastian “Alsvartr” Körkemeier, and was primarily influenced by Norwegian black metal musically and Norse mythology lyrically. Dionysos left the band in 2008, leaving Alsvartr to handle all the instrumental parts on the band’s recordings.
The band’s musical horizons broadened gradually over time to include elements of death metal, doom metal and traditional heavy metal, whilst still retaining the darkness in their sound. The ambitious double album “Sól” in 2011 was something of a pagan black metal tour de force. “Niederkunfft” (which may translate as “Delivery” in Old German) is the full length follow up.
When the band announced that they were entering the studio in early 2014 to record this album, they stated that “lyrically, we shall this time dive deep into the images of fear and terror that affected Europe in early modern times (1349-1654): The triumph of death, the thirty-years-war, pestilence, witches, daemons… all in all, the fear of the end of the world. The lyrics will, for the most part, be presented in old german language.” This could present something of a problem in trying to understand just exactly what is being sung, although there are a couple of tracks sung in English, however, even without being able to interpret the lyrics, the music is certainly descriptive of the subject matter.
Following a gentle, yet eerie, guitar introduction we plunge headfirst into the title track, a brilliant mid-paced number adorned with monastic choral sections and spoken word parts. There are echoes of doom metal to be heard here, as well as other tracks, such as “Totentanz” (Dance Macabre), which is particularly evocative on a song about the dance of death.
The tolling of church bells usher in the nine minute “Die Kirch Ist Umgekehret” (The Church Is Overthrown) takes it’s title from a line in “Tears Of The Fatherland”, a poem written by German poet Andreas Gryphius in 1636, during the Thirty Years War. A variety of tempos and use of more spoken word sections ensure that this track manages to convey some of the horror that this conflict must have brought to much of Europe at the time.
The English-language “Devils, Devils Everywhere!” has a more traditional black metal sound and is possibly the most instantly accessible track present, though I would say that there is no material on this album that is too demanding to get into for anyone that enjoys a bit of heavy metal. “Grimmig Tod” (Grim Reaper) is apparently an old German folk song, which is rather atmospheric with the sounds of rain etc. accompanying the chanted words.
The longest track here is “The Hiebner Prophecy”, coming in at just under eleven and a half minutes. Following a spoken word introductory passage in German, the lyrics switch the English again for a journey through various hells to the end of the world. Bleak and yet brilliant, which really just about sums up this whole record…
1. Niederkunfft / 2. Der Endkrist / 3. Totentanz / 4. Devils, Devils Everywhere! / 5. Magdeburg Brennt / 6. Grimmig Tod / 7. Die Kirch Ist Umbgekehret / 8. The Hiebner Prophecy / 9. Landsknecht / 10. 1683