Review: Tsjuder’s Helvegr is an Ice-Cold Scorcher


When Tsjuder’s sixth album, Helvegr, drops on June 23, it’s bound to light a fire under black metal elitists and new listeners alike. It’s an overwhelming monster of a record that comes eight years after Tsjuder’s previous studio effort, Antiliv. The explosive Helvegr proves that after 30 years, Tsjuder continues to keep the black flame alive.

No, not even Tsjuder’s split with their long-time drummer and professional pyrotechnician, Anti-Christian, can stop them from playing with fire and torches in both the figurative and literal senses. Helvegr is exactly what we need right now — it is dangerous, brutal, raw, and uncompromising.

From the moment you hit play on this record, it demonstrates that Tsjuder remains faithful their core identity — a fact that purists are sure to appreciate. Although Tsjuder’s music has not changed much over the years, Helvegr is still an important reminder the meaning of the genre while remaining fresh.

Helvegr bursts with grim atmosphere; this blood-thirsty offering is firmly rooted in the woodlands of the North, while simultaneously summoning visions of twisted steel from decimated military vehicles. The album rolls over you with overwhelming power with a sense that to the mind’s eye feels both very real and fantastical.

As epic as Helvegr sounds, it retains an intimate feel that reflects Tsjuder’s values. Although they’ve had many members over the years, the outfit’s center is best represented by the partnership between Nag and his co-conspirator Draugluin. Their chemistry and in-your-face, warrior energy rank among Helvegr’s greatest assets.

Nag lends his golden touch on bass and provides lead vocals; Draugluin annihilates listeners with his guitars and contributes additional vocals. The powerful voices of these impish Norse winter demons bounce off of each another with incredible effect. Nag’s use of different vocal approaches makes Helvegr a dynamic album, as do the killer riffs.

Thanks to both men, listening to Helvegr is a reinvigorating experience that is bound to have a physical reaction, such as forcing you into athletic motion and teeth grinding. This album is cocaine is sonic form.

Although Helvegr perfectly encapsulates the essence of black metal, it also contains elements of death metal, thrash, and rock. If you listen closely, you might hear some references to Black Sabbath, Pentagram, etc.

Whereas songwriting is usually a dual effort between Draugluin and Nag, for Helvegr, Draugluin composed most of the music himself for first time since the seminal album Desert Northern Hell (2004). The brilliantly balanced Helvegr boasts a variety of types of songs.

This record begins with the speed-hungry and anthemic “Iron Beasts”: “The demon races forward, serving death to the masses.” By contrast, “Helvegr,” the album’s longest track, works its dark magic at a rather slow pace. This unexpectedly groovy, hypothermia-inducing number grips you with the clawing might of raven’s talons.

Desecrator, one of Tsjuder’s former drummers, collaborated with Nag on the lyrics to “Helvegr.” Nag wrote most of the record’s texts, though Draugluin assisted him. Helvegr’s lyrics often conjure gorgeously ghastly images. The rapturously sadistic “Gods of Black Blood” actually features a memorable ending that includes some lines that were written and performed by 1349 and Mortem’s all-star bassist Seidemann. His low, raspy voice provides a great contrast to Nag’s. His performance is eerie and echoing. On this song, which happens to be Helvegr’s first single, Tsjuder declares: “We are the almighty, the supreme and the dominant.” Ultimately, the creative input of different voices led to lyrical results that are all the more fascinating.

On Helvegr, Tsjuder explores so much more than just opposition to Christianity. Their texts are often inspired by Norse mythology, as one might assume from the album’s title, which could be translated as “Road to Hel,” the Norse underworld. The mix of English and Norwegian songs works nicely. After all, one language lends a homegrown feel, and the other is the universally understood, demon-spawned tongue of evil that has likewise been used on countless classic TNBM releases. The utterly barbarous “Prestehammeren” serves as a stellar example of the extra flavor and authenticity frequently engendered by the Norwegian language.

Tsjuder’s friend and former member Pål Emanuelsen wows us with a wicked guitar solo on the truly terrifying “Gamle-Erik,” which takes its name from a devil figure in Norwegian folklore. Pål Emanuelsen also perfectly produced, mixed, and mastered Helvegr. The production is a bit different than in the past. It is even more extreme than it was on Antiliv, for instance. Yet, it is too clear, with guitars that really pop to the fore, to be mistaken for an old Tsjuder album. Fortunately, Helvegr isn’t too polished. Rather, Emanuelsen preserved its character. Although Helvegr sounds enormous, it still feels intimate and alive.

This time around, Tsjuder had a greater understanding of how production works and was thus able to effectively provide feedback. For each effort, Tsjuder mines inspiration from Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas (1994) and Immortal’s Pure Holocaust (1993), which is of crucial importance because these classics were produced by the legendary Pytten, whose philosophy has been to safeguard each band’s individualistic traits.

Drums were actually recorded separately in Pennsylvania by Shane Mayer — Tsjuder is currently working with the versatile and highly regarded American skin-pounder Jon Rice, who belongs to bands like Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and has formerly played with Job for a Cowboy. A truly excellent piece of artillery, Jon is the ideal weapon to complete Tsjuder’s sensory assault. His timing is impeccable. Due in part to communication with Nag and Draugluin, his work fits seamlessly into Tsjuder’s overall vision.

By the time the instrumental final track, “Hvitt Død,” casts its haunting spell, you will probably feel as if you’ve died a million deaths as a victim of Tsjuder’s reign of terror. Indeed, the phenomenal Helvegr may be compared to a round of bullets to the forehead. It tears you with its spikes and threatens to drizzle molten silver into your eyes. Blazing yet frostbitten, Helvegr delivers everything you want from black metal. This magnificent record is a beautiful addition to Tsjuder’s glorious catalogue.

Tsjuder’s Helvegr comes out on June 23 via Season of Mist. Pre-order your copy here. The box set versions include Tsjuder Tribute to Bathory Scandinavian Black Metal Attack and other goodies.

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