Originally written by Jordan Campbell
One of the more irritating byproducts of the Instant Gratification Generation is the way bands are leapfrogging the demo process. Too often, self-hype spins out of control (fueled by gaudy merch and streaming audio players), and overly cocky upstarts whip out half-cocked debut LPs without paying their proper dues. The result? Wrinkled, undercooked albums that sound like…well, demos.
Helrunar‘s situation was quite the opposite. Grátr saw limited release in 2003, and was billed as a demo. In reality, this nine-track behemoth is a fully-fleshed debut album. The signature Helrunar sound had been forged, and Grátr is a gritty, vitriolic execution of intent. Those introduced to the band via Frostnacht or the phenomenal Baldr ok Íss will find themselves sliding into Grátr‘s lair with ease, and some may even argue that this debut is the band’s best work.
That claim may be predicated on the style in which Helrunar‘s goods are delivered, which is aesthetically orgasmic (from a blackened perspective). While far from low-fi or old-school necro, Grátr has a crusted-up, stripped-down gnarl to it that predates the blistering bombast of Baldr ok Íss; it’s slightly buzzy, yet still wicked sharp–think Old Wainds’ Scalding Coldness with more thwomp. The riffing (which is the crux of their attack; there’s no post-wank wandering here) is of expected first-album quality, tearing and gnashing with youthful earnestness. “Seelenwinter” is searing and deadly, a straight-for-the-jugular swath of fury. “Morket under Verden” and the title track wreak similar havoc, the latter track an early blueprint for the killer storytelling that marked their later works.
At this point in their career, however, the band hadn’t yet grasped that aspect with their steel fists. Most of the songs found on Grátr start ridiculously strong, then begin to tail off towards the end of their five-minute running time. However, this is retroactive criticism stemming from comparison to Baldr ok Íss, which was one of the most complete, concise black metal albums in recent memory. Standing alone, this reissue is essential for fans of the band, as well as those that crave riff-centric, straight-the-fuck-up blackness in the vein of Winterfylleth, Elite, and the aforementioned Old Wainds.