Thyrfing – Hels Vite (Regain/Candlelight Records)

Friday, 15th March 2013
Rating: 8.5/10

Not the first name uttered when discussing the now widespread Pagan/epic metal scene, Sweden’s Thyrfing have been at it since the late 90’s with a batch of wholly respectable albums to their name, most notably 2000’s glorious Ukraft and 2002’s Vansinnesivor. After a three-year layoff from 2005’sFarsotstider (this is technically an ’08 release, mind you), the band returns withHels Vite which is far and away their best album to date.

The addition of former Naglfar vocalist Jens Ryden hasn’t put the band over the top; rather it’s the first four numbers on Hels Vite that are arguably the band’s most inspired and memorable compositions to date. Eschewing the usual folk-based instrumentation in favor of a more riff-based approach, numbers like opener “En Sista Litania” and “Hels Vite” are shocking straightforward, yet are blanketed by subtle keyboard flourishes that embellish the numbers with icy hooks.

“Isolation” is the obvious winner here, a frenzied, valiant jam that melds the grim Nordic landscapes with epic metal heroics. Plus, it’s one of two songs onHels Vite to be sung entirely in English. The band has always toyed with a few English-sung numbers on previous albums, making one wonder if they’ll ever fully take the plunge. Probably not.

The album peaks at the title track, but “Becoming the Eye” emerges as a stout stomper, as does “Griftefrid.” The overall finesse and simplistic nature of the album (and it’s first four songs) are going to take a lot of people accustomed to overbearing Pagan/folk by surprise, that’s for sure.

On regular rotation in the thick of winter in these parts, Hels Vite may not have gimmickry of a Turisas or the full-on image of an Ensiferum, but they do have a set of mighty, mighty songs that can hold up in this imaginary epic metal battle.

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