HJELVIK – Welcome To Hel
Released: 20 November 2020
Erlend Hjelvik | vocals
Alexis Lieu | bass
Kevin Foley | drums
Rob Steinway | guitars
Remi André Nygård | guitars
There is an ancient Viking saying from the Viga Glum’s Saga which reads as: “A man’s own hand is most to be trusted”; certainly this is open to interpretation, but the key message in this quotation is about an individual trusting themselves and their instincts to make the best decisions for themselves and their lives.
When Erlend Hjelvik made the difficult decision to leave the globally adored Blackened Metallic Hardcore Rock sextet Kvelertak – it stunned all their admirers worldwide as if they were placed in a “chokehold” and to a degree Erlend Hjelvik was thought to have sailed off in his langskip to his own Valhalla. As aforementioned, he trusted his instincts and made a very difficult decision to better himself and what was best for the band by departing.
Fortunately Kvelertak continued with a new vocalist and friend of the band Ivar Nikolaisen releasing their fourth album Splid in February this year to critical praise and chart topping success (review here); coincidentally Splid can be translated to “discord” which could provoke a battle or war – in this analogy then Kvelertak could be compared to the Norse God Tyr. What of Erlend Hjelvik though?
After two years of silence, a thunderous boom struck the world in late September – Erlend Hjelvik was back with his new blackened Viking heavy metal band Hjelvik. Continuing with the parallel, Erlend’s re-emergence into the heavy music world could be likened to Thor returning to Asgard in the film Thor: Ragnarok – the question is though, is the soundtrack for this return as jolting as being pummelled by the Hammer of Thor?
Derived from mythology, it is known that Thor can create thunder and lightening through his Hammer, therefore it would be more than fitting to compare the 10 tracks which make up Welcome To Hel to a storm. Let it be known that this is not just a seasonal downpour, this debut full-length is better likened to Cyclone Lothar.
This hurricane does not quietly build and thicken, it is an instantaneous lightning strike and thunderclap introduced by the first flash and deafening rumble in ‘Father War’ which lands somewhere between Amon Amarth and understandably Kvelertak. While Erlend did depart his former outfit, that musical DNA and sound is still very much imprinted on his soul and it is a characteristic to be very thankful for. ‘Thor’s Hammer’ has a much more classical metal feel, not quite Judas Priest but undoubtedly that exceptional era and identity of metal. ‘Helgrinda’ maintains all of the cited influences, then thankfully incorporates a modern black metal bridge with some flash flood rainfall drumming courtesy of Kevin Foley; this is really just the beginning of the t(err)ornado.
‘The Power Ballad Of Freyr’ could be identified as Kvelertak covering Iron Maiden – it acts possibly as the eye of the storm to a degree, however it is far from a halt, maybe a “hel(t)” [see title of the LP] and actually coincides flawlessly with the standout track that follows on the record ‘Glory Of Hel’. This is the anThorm that this scribe will always hear if observing a storm and undoubtedly many other heathenusiasts will also; it is an impossibility to not scream along to the infectious chorus astonishingly accentuated by Matt Pike of High On Fire.
‘12th Spell’ is a dark gloomy black metal burner that emits a Satyricon drone and it is honestly very welcomed, while ‘Ironwood’ gravitates to the brighter end of the spectrum, a song that Ensiferum have somehow not written yet but will assuredly be inspired by and embrace. ‘Kveldulv’ is the most evil song that Kvelertak never wrote and is a Norse Godsend. The lead single ‘North Tsar’ was the obvious choice to reintroduce Erlend to world of heavy music and a heroic harbinger of a his new era with Hjelvik.
Closer ‘Necromance’ has an odd motif to it that is hard to decipher; continuing with the use of imagery, the track is like the sun shining through the grotesque and monstrous storm. It is far from relief or hope, more-so it is conflicting. The guest appearance of Mike Scalzi from Slough Feg provokes this abnormality – perhaps this is the commendation to the Norse God and trickster Loki?
So what to make of Welcome To Hel? Does it have the defiant and shattering force of the Hammer of Thor? Is it a storm that leaves a path of destruction impossible to recover from? Truthfully, it isn’t that devastating; on the other (trusted) hand though, it is invigorating. There are theories and tales that Tyr and Thor are brothers, a very suiting correlation to this review’s theme and Kvelertak and Hjelvik. There is also a theory that these characters are as strong as each other and that concept is an immaculate way to conclude this analysis.
HJELVIK – Welcome To Hel track listing:
1. Father War
2. Thor’s Hammer
4. The Power Ballad Of Freyr
5. Glory Of Hel
6. 12th Spell
9. North Tsar