Helleruin- Devils, Death and Dark Arts (Album Review)

June 21, 2023


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Dutch black metal band Helleruin has become a force to be reckoned with over the past eight years, writing material that spanned a wide range of genre styles while emphasizing less straightforward songwriting than some of their peers.  2021’s War Upon Man and the Invincible split from last year showcased founder Carchost’s take on aggressively focused black metal that felt like it was pulling equally from Finnish influences alongside the more punk leaning moments of Taake.  For album number two, Devils, Death and Dark Arts Carchost has gone for denser arrangements that offer more twists and turns while simultaneously leaning more into melody than before.  It may not quite have the same immediacy as some of Helleruin’s previous material, but still has plenty of standout details that put the album a step above your average black metal release.

War Upon Man struck a balance between raw, shrill guitar work and darker melodies, forcing listeners to look underneath the abrasive exterior to discover some of the finer details.  Devils, Death and Dark Arts makes some noticeable tweaks to the production, toning down some of the rawness in favor of a fuller sound that emphasizes the guitar melodies and rumbling bass in equal capacity.  It’s still a very aggressive and powerful sounding album, but the way the guitar sits in the mix allows dark, tense atmosphere to build a bit more than before and this is echoed in the songwriting.  The average track length has increased by a few minutes, and each one builds up layers of blasting and mid-tempo riffing but doesn’t proceed in a straightforward manner.  Opener “The Flame Still Burns Within Me” offers up a moodier interlude around the halfway point that gives a brief respite from the attack, and you’ll hear more of these pauses throughout the album.  Stylistically the sound has shifted towards a cross between the shrill melodies of Finnish black metal and the more majestic approach of the Swedish scene, with a few of the denser assaults also bringing Mgła to mind.  Carchost still achieves a style of his own though, as despite pulling from several different templates things come together in a way that still feels fresh.  However, despite the quality of the songwriting I did find that Devils, Death and Dark Arts didn’t quite sink its claws in quite as much as War Upon Man or Invincible did.  Some of the melodies start to blur together over the longer spans of time, and while there are interesting details to break them up over repeat listens it does dampen the overall impact a bit.

The first few seconds of “The Flame Still Burns Within Me” offer up whispered spoken words that immediately create a dark, ominous vibe, and this immediately draws you in to the material.  From there Carchost switches over to the raspy screams you may be familiar with if you’ve followed Helleruin in the past, but the vocals are placed a little further back in the mix this time and sometimes get swallowed up by the layers of instrumentation.  This appears to be a deliberate decision as it really puts the guitar work front and center, and while there were a few times where I wished the screams were just a bit more prominent it does suit what Carchost is going for overall.  Compared to some of the other black metal vocalists out there he is able to naturally vary his pitch and hit some highs and lows that add to the intensity.  “It Befalls the Night With Doom” and “Riddles in Devil’s Tongue” stand out in particular with some howling and other nightmarish pitches that showcase just how powerful and abrasive Helleruin can get.

 For album number two Helleruin has made quite a few tweaks to its approach, going for longer and more complex songs that emphasize grander melodies and thicker atmosphere.  It does result in some similarly constructed moments even with the twists and turns, and while it didn’t have quite as many riffs that had that immediacy as War Upon Man there’s plenty of substance beneath the surface that still make it worth your time.  I do genuinely like the direction Carchost is heading here and he continues to offer a bit more than your average black metal act, so it seems likely that there are still plenty of surprises to come.  Devils, Death and Dark Arts is available from New Era Productions.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg