ERDLING - HELHEIM
Reviewer Score: 8 out of 10
NEW GERMAN PAGANISM
It seems to me that I will not go wrong if I call Erdling one of the fastest growing bands on the modern NDH scene. 7 years have passed since the time when Neill Freiwald and Niklas Kahl, the former guitarist and drummer of Stahlmann, respectively, left the “steel ones” and formed the “earth dwellers”, and the band is already releasing their 5th album. And these are not 5 records stamped in someone's image and likeness, but a real path of creative search. If you listen to Erdling's works in chronological order, it will become clear that, being within the framework of its concept, the band with each release somehow improved its sound, honed its style and tried to bring something original to the genre. Of course, this did not always work out, but step by step Erdling still managed to create its own identity. And in this regard the previous record of the band called “Yggdrasil” can be called as the turning point. Erdling's sound became noticeably heavier on it. The changes also affected Neill's vocal manner, who started to use elements of extreme vocals in his parts more often, rhythm sections that became more intense and somewhat characteristic even for thrash metal, guitar parts and production in general. At the same time, the general concept of Erdling as an NDH-band remained solid, but by introducing elements of other genres, the “earth dwellers” managed to make their sound unique. The album featured guest appearances by Robse Dahn (Equilibrium) and Chris Pohl (Blutengel) and was produced by Chris Harms (Lord of the Lost). By the way, one of the founders of Erdling, Niklas Kahl, joined Lord of the Lost after he left the band after the release of its second album. “Yggdrasil” is by far the band's best album. And now, a year later, the band presents the ideological continuation of this record - the album called “Helheim”. Actually, the fact that the band would continue to move in the direction set by “Yggdrasil” became evident after the announcement of the title of the new work and the release of its cover. But where the pagan motives have led the “earth dwellers” this time, we will understand below.
The album opens with a powerful industrial/thrash metal smash hit called “Rabenherz”. The already fast-paced, intense beat completely breaks loose at the end of the track, setting a frantic pace. But the following hymn-like composition called “Götterdämmerung” lowers the tempo, but adds pathos and monumentality. What else can you expect from a track called “Twilight of the Gods”? A very nice melodic gothic metal/NDH song, with a simplistic percussion, but a cool solo and a bridge with Neill's distorted vocals in the style of dark electro. The level of monumentality, and in general, the whole style of “Götterdämmerung” resembles the tracks of Schwarzer Engel - you can even imagine Neill in armor with wings... By the way, it could become a good feat track, though Neill and Dave's timbres are similar anyway, and we wouldn't have distinguished them at all with mastering from Harms neither from each other, nor from Harms himself… Okay, let's leave the assumptions and move on, especially since at this moment any fan of the classic marching NDH sound, with a high degree of probability, will be delighted. “Der Mensch verdient die Erde nicht” is made in the best traditions of the genre, and even the chorus is not primitive, but quite meaningful, it even contains a message: “Look the truth in the eye//Man doesn't deserve the Earth.”
The sharp social subjects and rigid and plain compositional structure of “Der Mensch verdient die Erde nicht” are replaced by the romantic mood of “Leuchtfeuer”. And here we have one of the most interesting and controversial decisions relating to the arrangement of the track. The fact is that “Leuchtfeuer” is a ballad to the core, but it is wrapped in speed/thrash metal candy wrapper. Moreover, the very idea of measured, melodic verses and a more driving chorus is good in itself and suits the mood of the song, but sometimes it seems to me that the guys went a little too far with the intensity of the rhythm section in this case, despite the fact that I really like the song itself, especially its bridge sections. But the next song - “Fimbulwinter” - is compositionally structured in an inversed manner. Here we hear aggressive, ragged riffs paired with a growling Neill`s vocals in the verses and a semi-acoustic passage in the chorus. In fact, “Fimbulwinter” is perhaps the main hit of the album, and at the same time the most interesting song in terms of the intertwining of genres. Combining elements of gothic metal a-la Lord of the Lost, folk and pagan motives, the track becomes a real hallmark of the album. And, of course, one cannot fail to note the deep, rich vocals of Julie Elven who performed her parts as a guest vocalist on this track, known for recording vocals for many game and film projects, including Horizon, World of Warcraft, League of Legends and many others.
Meanwhile, the next track - “Vogelfrei” - clearly shows the role of production in the perception of the song. If it had not been for the competent distribution of the instruments between the channels, excellent mastering and mixing, it could have turned out to be just a droning monotonous track that would have flown completely unnoticed, especially considering its length of less than 3 minutes. But, as we have already understood, the technical issues of the record were dealt with by professionals, which means that instead of a generic track we got a quite strong NDH track with a bright, prominent chorus and polyphony in verses, which literally surrounds the listener, creating an interesting effect of presence inside the track.
After such an energetic track, a short interlude was very competently integrated into the record, which turns into another NDH smash hit with a vibe similar to “Der Mensch verdient die Erde nicht”. Now I am talking about “Weißglut”. And again, how well thought out is the tracklist of the record! After all, being beside each other, these tracks could well have gotten lost, and so the album constantly alternates the style, the rhythm of the songs, not letting you get bored at all. So the next song, which is the title track called “Helheim”, changes the direction of the record again by 180 degrees, offering the listener an actual indie/pop-rock ballad with a slight dark rock influence alla Scarlet Dorn instead of another NDH or Thrash Metal “grinder”. But this is far from the most surprising thing that can be heard on the new Erdling album. The next track, “Das Ritual”, was a real surprise for me. Hearing real pagan folk from Erdling, especially in the traditions of Heilung or, I'm not afraid of saying this, Wardruna, was truly unexpected. Moreover, I can't make myself call “Das Ritual” an indistinct attempt to play outside of the band's own field as the song sounds very authentic. And it would be great to finish the album on this pagan note or, at least, to summon someone, but no - “Das Ritual” is followed by another ballad - “Baum der Welt”. “The World Tree” is a good song, but, in my opinion, somewhat odd. But these are trifles - after all, the album is already too short to shorten its tracklist.
It's time to make a summary. Although “Helheim” is obviously less heavy than “Yggdrasil”, it is more balanced and goes even further in defining the identity of Erdling's sound. It is interesting, varied, perfectly executed in technical terms, but it also has its drawbacks. First of all, this is the almost complete absence of catchy riffs. If some melodies still somehow get stuck in your head, then you are unlikely to reproduce at least one guitar riff in your memory. And for NDH, this is not the last factor, whatever one may say. Still, NDH was and remains the core of Erdling's sound. I will put one more fly in the ointment for not rich and rather simple arrangements. Of course, simplicity is not a flaw but the band definitely has yet a lot to develop in this direction. However, I consider “Helheim” to be another step forward for Erdling. Moreover, I would put this album in the second place among all NDH releases of the year (Grand Prix is left for Eisbrecher - no options here), which is an excellent result. Moreover, in some aspects “Helheim” even beats the work of Alex and Noel, but only in some. As for the assessment, I myself would like to drag in the “nine”, but it's too early. So solid, by no means far fetched 8 out of 10.