Fundamentally, the U.S. band Helcaraxë sound like Swedish death metal with melodic elements. If this were all they were, they would still be excellent. They phenomenally execute everything I want in melodic death metal. Guitar crunch is prioritized, melodies are catchy but never saccharine, and vocals are grotesque and expressive. Even though Helcaraxë are one of the most inventive bands I've heard recently, they still play bottom-line, satisfying Death Metal. Helcaraxë are masters of innovation from within the style.
Every song on Broadsword (Regimental, 2009) is its own experiment, with musical technique closely linked to lyrical intent. The title track features both guitarists shredding frantically against each other, taking the sort of majestic battle song that Amon Amarth is known for and throwing it off balance and out of control. "Into the Vortex" centers on the climactic scene of Evil Dead II, and features horror movie keyboards directly alongside the riffs, creating an effect that's equal parts weird reverb and separate instrument. "God Slayer" uses polyrhythms and sudden tempo changes to narrate an internal battle between Dawkins-inspired atheism and Christianity, then blasts into gear with dual guitar solos and a bad-ass thrash riff when Dawkins wins. Every song feels fresh yet purposeful. I never feel like I'm listening to a variety show or technical wankery.
If there is indeed an old school death metal revival, its proponents would do well to pay attention to Helcaraxë. Following tradition risks sounding like you have nothing personal to offer. Helcaraxë use tradition as a base for new musical and narrative ideas. The results are surprising, compelling, and unpretentious.
- Anthony Abboreno