A conversation paired well with the Icelandic unit's new cinematic track.
The regional surges in new trailblazing bands is a phenomenon that is difficult to attribute to one particular factor. Whether it's the friendly competition among them all, the geography, or frankly the sociopolitical circumstances surrounding that particular area at the time, what stems from these particular cities is something quite special. Arizona, Denver, and Reykjavík are among the few cities that have recently become subject as breeding grounds for exceptional heaviness. In looking specifically at Iceland, we get bands like HELFRÓ, who hail from the nation's capital to great lengths and further cement their hometown as a prominent leader in black metal.
The duo's self-titled debut is set to arrive on April 24th via Season of Mist and today, HELFRÓ present Hin forboðna alsæla as an additional taste of the beast to come. In short, Hin forboðna alsæla is a palette cleansing affair that merges Ragnar's cataclysmic blast beats with clean Gísli vocals to great great success. Atmospheres made present here by Simon's guitar melodies transports the mind to places only melodic black metal could, pushing the genre's boundaries beyond what one finds conventional. With multiple listens now recorded in our mind, we can assure this is one effort you'd want to spiral up the top of your listening lists.
To dive deeper beneath the richly layered debut, we talk to vocalist/drummer Ragnar:
Debut releases are sometimes met with a sense of pressure for bands that are still finding their sound, though it appears you knew damn well what you wanted to achieve with this record. Musically, where do you feel you’ve found your direction?
Ragnar: I've read that artists with a strong direction are the sum of their influences and I agree with that. In my head there is a constant cacophony of musical memories and ideas, and from that chaos occasionally rises a melodic idea.
The writing process for Helfró usually always starts from there and then is transcribed onto our riff archives. Rarely do I sit down with the intent of coming up with something. Ideas usually sprout during the daily grind and then I write them out as soon as I have access to a guitar and a computer. Having loved extreme metal for a long time, usually the result is something fast and aggressive.
Today’s arrival of Hin forboðna alsæla differs from that of the previously released Afeitrun, offering a glimpse at the various elements present throughout the album. It incorporates cinematic vocals from Gísli as well as alternating tempos and glistening melodies, all coming together for one seamless listen. How do you find a common ground between all of the different elements at play on the record?
Ragnar: The music is built in layers. It always starts out with the foundational riffs, then you start hearing leads or vocal melodies in your head and experiment with adding them on. Later on in the writing process, we listen to the demos and some of the time we throw out some of the layers or change them until we´re satisfied with the song.
Seeing as the atmospheres on Helfró serve as an apt representation, how does the geography and landscape of your native homeland find its way into the musical composition?
Ragnar: Many of the cold and dismal tremolo leads, as well as part of the lyrics are directly inspired by the landscape here. There is a certain feeling of loneliness and insignificance that one feels when confronted with the vast empty deserts of the highlands.
I have a day job that requires me to travel extensively and I repeatedly find myself completely alone with barren landscapes as far as the eye can see. I try to interpret that experience into some of the music.
In working with View From The Coffin for the incredibly detailed album cover, what did you envision for the end result when first approaching him?
Ragnar: I gave him almost completely free reign with the artwork, but translated lyrics and clarified some of the lyrical concepts for him to build his vision from. The glorious result is better than what I could have envisioned, and gives emphasis on the symbolic journey that is undertaken throughout the album. The destination being this temple into which only the purified can enter.
The painting is multi-layered and quite intricate, resulting from what would appear was a strong collaborative understanding. What did that collaboration between you and View From The Coffin look like in achieving this piece?
Ragnar: Void Revelations, responsible for photography, layout and visual consultancy, got me in contact with View From The Coffin and helped create some of the basic ideas that we fed to the artist. In the end though, the final vision was created by the artist and presented to us in an early form, and we went from there.
Art truly is an extension of the music it represents. Were there any particular album covers that you can recall having an impact on you as a listener? Or perhaps introduced you to records you’ve come to love?
Ragnar: There have been many times where artwork influenced me to give something new a listen. More often in the past when there were no streaming services and I would go to the record shop and pick something out of a pile of albums.
I remember an instance years ago when I bought “In the Wake of Collisions” by The Arcane Order after the album cover caught my eye. I proceeded to listen to that album countless times. I like artwork that shows majesty, infinity and grandeur.
Iceland has delivered an incredible amount of quality black metal as of late, with your release being another to add to a list including Sinmara, Svartidauði, and Kaleikr to name a few. To what do you attribute this recent influx?
Ragnar: It's so hard to put your finger on why the scene has become so successful, and yet I've been a witness to the Icelandic scene since around 2003. I think that the best guess is that some bands managed to gain attention with the release of some absolutely great albums (Svartidauði, Misþyrming, Auðn to name just some), and that put enough spotlight on the scene to get more and more bands noticed.
There have been some awesome releases in my opinion that happened before anyone gave a shit about Iceland, but they were unperceived simply because nobody was checking out stuff from here. I think the attention is fluctuating. One year it's all about French black metal, the next year it's Sweden, then Iceland and who knows what comes next.
Though black metal in essence, each of your colleagues differ in more ways than one, specifically thematic inspirations and overall sound. Is there camaraderie between you all and does it influence you in any way?
Ragnar: There is certainly mutual respect and it is just different from person to person whether we check out each others projects and live gigs or if we just exclusively listen to foreign bands and old influences.
I would say that I am certainly influenced in many ways by members of other Icelandic bands. Some of the guys are extremely helpful and insightful and I am also inspired by the standard and hard work of many of the other Icelandic bands.
This is only the beginning for Helfró yet this album lays the path for quite the interesting next few years. As musicians in the genre and veterans of the scene, where do you think black metal stands in the modern day?
Ragnar: I personally think that it's great that there has never been a crystal clear definition of black metal. Some say it needs to be satanic, some say it needs to be as extreme as possible and the opinions are so different that people tend to disagree heavily on what can be called black metal and what can't.
This subgenre of metal music has branched out in almost every conceivable direction and I think it will continue doing so, giving us a fresh perspective with each generation that gets caught up in this magical music.
I think the dark themes of this musical style mirror the part within our humanity that is fascinated by the morbid and the unknown. As long as we keep being interested in exploring the darkness of this world, we will probably continue to explore dark music.
Helfró hits doorsteps on April 24th via Season of Mist. Pre-order your copy HERE.