Album Debut: Vanhelgd – Relics of Sulphur Salvation

The Band

Vanhelgd are from Sweden. They stomp their HM2 pedals as their countrymen have done and will continue to do so until the end of time. For some, that’s enough info to make a judgment whether Relics of Sulphur Salvation is for them. And, in a way, the quartet deliver upon molded expectations: they buzz, their riffs are outfitted with tank treads that roll over everything, their tonal palette is somewhere between vikings humming and possessed blenders. Yet, Vanhelgd are to old school Swede death as Immolation are to New York death metal. Surface similarities exist, though their hearts just beat differently. Plus, like the Yonkers clatterers, Vanhelgd’s music also requires concentration to click. It’s all the more rewarding when you lock into their gears.

Your approach takes a few spins to properly align due to Vanhelgd’s atypical temperament. Guitarists/vocalists Jimmy Johansson and Mattias “Flesh” Frisk toughen their tirades with a kind of liturgical fervor. Their vociferousness is in service of Satan or another ancient evil. However, that’s not the atypical element. It’s that these devotionals aren’t delivered via a ‘haha, the devil’ wink. Vanhelgd can be unsettlingly diabolical because they’re not nutso. Their output is methodical, pre-meditated. It’s intense, but it doesn’t froth, doesn’t sink into self-parody. Their steadiness is truly insidiousness; that they won’t stop and it sure as hell will take more than you meddling kids. (Needlessly nerdy thought: The death metal equivalent of Raymond Lemorne?) This measured approach comes courtesy of the rhythm section as Vanhelgd boasts one of the stronger backbones heard in some time. Björn Andersson — also Ocean Chief’s thumper of drums — and bassist Jonas Albrektsson go a long way in letting the listener know this isn’t a mere mood that will pass, but a driving obsession. Dear Dio, are they focused. Heavy, too. Really heavy. A Crowbar cover band rostered by blue whales heavy.

On the other hand, something happens if you try to carbon date the influences: You find it’s derived from a force that strikes as being far older than, well, all of us.

The Release

That’s the impressive thing: Vanhelgd haven’t been around that long. They formed in 2007, Relics of Sulphur Salvation is their third long-player. This album sounds old, though. That’s not intended as a slight. Don’t think new-old in the ‘I found my dad’s NWO_HM collection’ sense. No, it’s the way Latin read during a satanic mass sounds old. Relics is out of time, era-less, feeling as though it has always been there. This antiquing twists tropes beyond expectations. Granted, the guts match up against an anatomical chart of Entombed, the “Angel of Death” arpeggios might look familiar as tablature. Nevertheless, if you played these chords on a tuned-to-doom piano, you’d guess it was timeworn diabolus in musica tasked with eradicating the spread of a then-reigning religion. Again, it gets at something deeper than another trek down the left hand path. It’s the eons-established battle of the soul, just like the one expressed in the vanitas cover art.

Take the hell-fiery “Where All Flesh is Soil,” the lashing where riffs almost run backwards; cyphers to be decoded by an elder order of malevolence, maybe. Hear it? Right? Old. That said, the production is modern. Compare: Cavernous murkers usually are crowned as the new leaders of metal insanity, using the artificial veil of instability to make up for lack of execution. Vanhelgd do away with any buffer, any atmospheric middle man. They let the music create its own atmosphere instead of twiddling the knob connected to the fog machine. It’s magick without the illusion. Thus, Relics of Sulphur Salvation’s artifacts are frighteningly authentic.

Vanhelgd’s Relics of Sulphur Salvation will be available in North America through 20 Buck Spin on May 27. (CD Preorder and LP Preorder.) Pulverised Records will handle the international side for CDs and digital copies, while 20 Buck Spin is set to supply the worldwide LPs.

— Ian Chainey