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Review: Helheim - Niðr ok Norðr liggr Helvegr
Niðr ok Norðr liggr Helvegr

Label: Perverted Taste Records
Year released: 2005
Originally released in: 1994
Duration: 49:04
Tracks: 8
Genre: Black Metal

Rating: 3/5

Review online: October 4, 2021
Reviewed by: Mjölnir
Readers Rating
Niðr ok Norðr liggr Helvegr

Rated 3.4/5 (68%) (5 Votes)

Helheim are among the oldest of Norway's Black Metal bands obsessed with Vikings, existing around the same time as Enslaved and still releasing albums to this day. I'm not familiar with the band despite their longevity, but my understanding is that their best-known works are on the epic side and lean on folk instrumentation, which won them a lot of notoriety back in the day. This demo was released back in 1994 and got them signed to Solistitium Records for their first couple of full-lengths, though it's only been rereleased a few times and only once on disc. After giving it a listen, I kind of get why, for while there's a lot of promise on here, it's not very good in the end.

Niðr ok Norðr liggr (roughly Netherwards and Northwards lies Helheim) is a Black Metal album from Norway in the '90s, so you already know what 90% of it sounds like. You get furious tremolo strumming, atonal melodies, howling vocals, and a rough production that barely has room for it all like you would expect, but even this early in their careers, Helheim strove to be more than just another band in the scene. For one, their compositions lean more on the epic side, thanks to some stirring guitar work and incorporation of keyboards and horns on some of the tracks. They even have more strictly folk/neoclassical arrangements and instrumentation on some of the songs, like the entirely acoustic opener and the piano piece "Jotne vandring", which may be fairly common these days, but back then was a bit more novel.

Sadly, this is an example of a band with good ideas that weren't fully developed yet. The songs tend to be disjointed and the longer tracks don't have much reason for their length outside of just being long, especially on the mind-numbing 12-minute closer "Gjennom mørke og tåke". The more experimental parts of their sound don't help this, as the horns and piano noises feel out of place with the rest of the album, and the spots where they try to use falsetto to punctuate the mood are just laughable.

I suppose I'm being a bit harsh on a demo that doesn't represent what the band would become, and even in this rough state, there's enough going on with Helheim's sound to suggest they would go on to do greater things. As is, this is more of a historical curiosity for fans rather than something I'd go out of my way to recommend.

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