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Vanhelgd - Atropos Doctrina review

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Band: Vanhelgd
Album: Atropos Doctrina
Style: Death metal
Release date: July 2024

01. Saliga Äro De Dödfödda
02. Kom Dödens Tysta Ängel
03. Ofredsår
04. I Ovigd Jord
05. Atropos Hymnarium
06. Galgdanstid
07. Kerernas Törst
08. Gravjordsfrid

Don’t fix what ain’t broken, just build on it. Here’s how.

Another day, another band from my hometown. Is there no end to bands from my hometown? Of course not, this is fucking Sweden. Every mother and their granny has a death or black metal band here. So what sets Vanhelgd (“dis-hallow’d”, I guess) apart from all the others? Well, first and foremost, they calculate the answers to the good old Swedeath equation really well, while adding a never overbearing yet entirely permeating touch of Nordic melancholy and desolace to the computations; computations which are only made even more effective by the relentlessly despaired lyrics. This is the kind of album that will make you feel empowered until you realise the meaning of it, then empowered twice as you rise up from the hopeless murk Vanhelgd are depicting here.

Why is Swedish metal so gloomy? Well, we have a good enough time here to have way too much time to think about things, I suppose. Do I mind? Not at all, if it leads to music like this. This signals the point where it is time I start talking about the actual music, instead of proclaiming what everybody already knows, I suppose. I suppose a lot. In this article, I even suppose to be a long time, big fan of death metal, which I might as well tell you all that I am not. In fact, out of the nearly 100 reviews I’ve written here so far, I’ve probably written about power metal (wait, I have NOT, who is writing this shit?) more than death metal. Take this, like everything else I write, with a backhoe of salt, but also keep in mind that if Vanhelgd manages to make me write two paragraphs of this sort of gushing stuff while I’m not even really a death metal aficionado, then it ought to be good, right?

“Så som i helvetet / Så också på Jorden” (Just as in Hell, so also on Earth)

Yep, it’s good, and to fit my aesthetic sensibilities there’s also some black metal influences on the menu here, although more subtle ones. The first you’ll recognise are the austere, tortured, hoarse vocals that still carry some modicum of melody and sound like a blend of guttural growls and DSBM shrieking in a sort of sing-song held-back way that to me brings to mind, more than anything else, the vocal work in Tiamat’s earlier albums. A fast-death/doom riff opens the album up with “Saliga Äro De Dödfödda” (Blessed Be The Stillborn) and a screeching lead guitar quickly enters to provide a subtly folk-infused, pulsing melody that soon develops into sustained soaring tone progressions as the harrowing vocals tell you all why it’s better to be unborn while the rhythm sections skilfully jump between chugging ominous chord progressions and churning out memorable melodic signatures. It’s a short song, at just above three minutes, however, so let’s see if Atropos Doctrina can keep the songwriting up.

“Kom Dödens Tysta Ängel” (Come, Silent Angel Of Death) is another badass title. In fact, I’ve a mind to translate all the song titles on this album for you, because they’re all very clever and, well, totally fucking metal. Maybe I will, because nobody made me sign a “no namedrop clause” when I joined the staff. Anyway, this song has a less forceful, more atmospheric mood that perfectly complements the opening song’s more “let’s show you what we’ve got” attitude. Mid-paced, rumbling drums, simple yet effective chord progressions, melo-doom/death lead guitars, and pummeling bass ensures that interest is kept high until “Ofredsår” (Year(s) Of Unrest), that continues on the same pattern while infusing the music with a slightly black metal aesthetic with its tremolo-focused verse riffs.

It’s actually quite hard to describe Atropos Doctrina without describing each individual song, because, while you could pick any song off this album and very likely deduct that it is from this album (or at least this band), they’re all different enough to warrant special attention, and that is exactly what warrants my special attention; an album that keeps total consistency throughout yet manages to make each song memorable in its own way. “Galgdanstid” (Gallows Dance Time) opens with a start-stop rhythm that then proceeds between something like a very dark Iron Maiden rhythm guitar supported by a playful, sort of Primordial-sounding lead, before crashing down into a playful, indeed danceable, “hey! Hey!”-breakdown that remains my favourite moment of the album.

The album ends with “Gravjordsfrid” (Burial Ground Peace), a doomy-at-first song that doesn’t raise any eyebrows - and obviously intentionally so - until it soon erupts into an unexpectedly complex chord progression that at first never seems to really end, and finishes off the album in an almost progressive fashion, with short, interweaving guitar solos, several “variations on a theme” riffs, and a massive buildup into an epically mournful conclusion. Turns out you don’t need to be a big death metal fan to absolutely love this, you just need an appreciation for intense, dark, and soulful music of really any kind.

The only thing I really have to mention is what I already mentioned to be a good thing (don't ask); you can pick any song out of context and it'll be a great song - this doesn't sound like a bad thing, of course, but it means that every song is a hit song of its own, and the album dynamics themselves turn out, in the end, to be somewhat flat. It's excellent when every song has its own identity, but it's just great when every song is kind of interchangeable with the next one. Is this really a minor complaint that I more or less feel forced to make just to justify my not rating this a 9/10 just to remedy previous occasions of score inflation...? Yep, I mean, no, it is a point of contention, but not a big one, and yep, we sure have got some great bands around these parts, and this is one of them.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 9
Originality: 8
Production: 8

Written on 10.07.2024 by 100% objective opinions.

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