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If I had known that I would be a metalhead, I would have studied Latin and Norse mythology. Maybe we're past the time of black metal's more-elite-than-you album titles in Latin (shades of Catholicism). But I don't think we'll ever be past the time of Norse mythology. The more I learn about metal, the more I see its influence everywhere. I don't mean just name-checking Odin and drinking beer. I mean really digging into the legends, learning who's who, and trying to understand how this mythology could be so powerful as to alter the way many of us speak. Einherjar, Fenris, Mánagarmr, Naglfar, Niflheimr, Surtr, and Tyr are but a few relevant names.

In Norse mythology, underpinning the universe is the tree Yggdrasill (perhaps an inspiration for The Tree of Souls in Avatar), the hub of nine worlds. One is Asgård, the home of the gods. Another is Niflheimr, the world of mist and ice. Yet another is Helheimr, the world of the dead. (The Norse word "Hel" has the same linguistic root as the English word "hell"; the Christian notion of hell came from pagan origins.)

Helheim the band indeed started out hellishly bad. Their 1995 debut Jormundgand had perhaps the shrillest vocals I've ever heard in metal. But the band improved ever-so-slowly. For a while, Helheim was sort of the pale shadow of Enslaved. Then Enslaved lost their vertebrae on the album of that name, Helheim stepped up with the solid Kaoskult, and the tables turned. Now with Asgårds Fall (Dark Essence, 2010), I get from Helheim what I once got from Enslaved - the atmosphere of black metal with the backbone of Viking metal.

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"Dualitet og Ulver" (video)

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Asgårds Fall is just an EP, but it's not just an EP. It's a 33-minute history lesson in Norse mythology set to rich sound. The touches of timpani and french horn in "Asgårds Fall, Pt. I" could have been cheesy. Instead, they're tasteful indicators of intent: going big. If you're writing about the fall of Asgård, you can use timpani and french horn. The EP's centerpiece is a two-part, 21-minute mini-epic about Asgård. Two instrumental interludes provide breathers. The EP closes with "Dualitet og Ulver", a song about, among other things, the part of the Ragnarök story where wolves swallow the sun and the moon, and "Jernskogen", a majestic re-recording of a 10 year-old song. The liner notes include lyrics in Norwegian, translations in English, and artwork matching the subject matter. Most full-lengths aren't this ambitious.

"Dualitet og Ulver" has a video. (See above.) I'm not sure how the images relate to the song, but they are pretty. Hoest of Taake does guest vocals and appears in the video as the hooded, masked figure. "Dualitet og Ulver" will be on Helheim's forthcoming album Heiðenðomr ok motgangr. Evidently that, too, will feature timpani and French horn - see this interview at Lords of Metal. This EP's liner notes indicate inspiration by and dedication to Bathory. Quorthon would probably be proud of what Helheim are doing with what he started.

— Cosmo Lee

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