Album Title: Triumph and Revenge
Label: Regimental Records
This is the first album from Helcaraxe, an American band playing Viking-themed black metal.
The sound on this album is quite thick, with tons of jangling bass and deep, throaty vocals. Snarled and clean vocals also come in now and again. The lead guitar reminds me a bit of old Morbid Angel -- bizarre, nimble riffs collide with weird speed changes and breaks, then briefly coalesce into straightforward melodies. The drumming is equally varied, switching between total insanity and slow, stately passages with nary a second of hesitation.
This is one of the rare Viking & Tolkien themed albums that doesn't rely on stereotypical cliches to make its point. This band largely eschews the usual medieval/ren-faire sound, in favor of a dynamic, aggressive flow, heavy on the bass. That's a good thing, as the bass sound on this album is monstrous, simply excellent! Best of all, every song is pared down to the bare minimum. There's no "epic for epic's sake" tracks here -- almost all of the songs are under four minutes long, and about half of those end before the two minute mark (and they're actually good!) I have no idea how this band manages to make two minute tracks sound this epic. An example is "Chimera": short, swaggering, and snarling, this might be the best song ever written about lycanthropy. Hell, "With Fire and Steel" is even shorter (just 35 seconds long), and it's got actual song structure! Unbelievable. Then there's "Mjolnir", a ten-minute track marked by ambitious bass lines and an emotional vocal performance. The tempo changes are wonderful throughout. "Vision Quest" is the other long song on the album, at a little over five minutes. It strikes an interesting balance between melodic guitar lines and bludgeoning bass. The shouts during the middle section are especially great.
It was quite difficult to choose the best tracks from this album, and I don't think I've EVER picked a two-minute song as a standout track before. "Triumph & Revenge" has it all: unique sound, excellent songwriting, and top-notch musicianship. This is one of the best albums of 2007. Fans of Unleashed, Bifrost, Hades, and other complex Viking bands must hear this! Highly recommended.
Standout Tracks: "Litany of the False God", "Mjolnir", "Chimera"