Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hellkult - The Collection

Hellkult - The Collection
2004, Regimental Records

Hellkult was a Finnish band who first started (I am basing this on evidence gleaned from various internet sites, so it might be spurious) in 1997 and then released three demos before disbanding, its members then going on to form Wyrd and Azaghal, whom I'm sure most readers are familiar with. The demos, "Christian Holocaust", "Hail War", and "Of Pure Heathen Blood", were released in 1997, 1998 and 1999, respectively, and then a later posthumous split EP with Fog surfaced in 2001 - although on this EP the material included was only the first demo. There seems to be some sort of consensus or majority feeling that the third demo, "Of Pure Heathen Blood", is the music that should be attended to, and that demo appears here as the lion's share of available music. I believe tracks 1-7 are the first demo, 8-11 the second, and 12-20 are this third/final recording. Regimental did not provide an information sheet with the promo they sent me so I can not say for sure...I am not really familiar with this band. If this is the case then this collection CD is not only a "representative" look back at the band's discography, it features just by aligning the songs in chronological order some kind of historiography, or a presentation of (possible) evolution. It would be instructive to play this disc all the way though, for example, and then switch over to Wyrd or Azaghal to continue the line of legacy or stylistic "progress". The first Wyrd demo, "Unchained Heathen Wrath", was recorded throughout 1998-2000, and so supposedly overlaps stylistically with the Hellkut music before Wyrd took a turn towards more "atmospheric" music and pagan themes.

From what I can tell/hear this transition comes exactly at track 9 on this CD, the second song from the second demo. While the earlier "satanic warmetal" style continues into the second demo recordings (alternating with the clean guitars of the second and fourth tracks), the first appearance of pagan-themed lyrics and a wretchedly played and recorded flute (or is that just a plastic recorder?) on "Chambers of Poisoned Sleep" and "Hail War" lets one know the "heathen" themes are beginning to be thought of as a possible direction for the musicians here. It would be interesting to know who (which members) wrote each track, or if the material can be divided that way - as a portrait of a potential/growing split in the band as to the nature of the music they would be releasing. I suppose only the people who appear on these recordings know.

Of course it is on "Of Pure Heathen Blood" that these new elements burst forth finally in a more cohesive, concentrated, and regulated form. Strangely, at the same time, what appears to be a more traditional German thrash metal influence pops up as well - there are no two more dissimilar tracks on this CD than the first two songs from the last demo. The echoing, clean guitars and chants of the title track do not ready one for the nostalgic redundancy of "Der Sieg Ist Unser" ("victory is ours"?) or the later "Winterkrieg", which both sport German names to echo their overt/obvious/intended influences. I am guessing this is not a coincidence. Also on this second track one immediately spots a certain...hesitancy on the part of the band to stay close to traditional or well-defined songwriting patterns, as it veers off into half-experimental miniature sections in at least two places, highlighted by a bass sound and flexibility that now (in this band's history) steps to the fore. There is still a reliance on completely primitive tremelo-picked slow chord progressions, however, although this element (hearkening back to the group's beginnings in 1997) is now joined to bouncing, dancing, enthusiastic riffing which will probably remind most listeners of Graveland's less restrained "pagan" themes - echoing, ever-repeating folk motifs suborned beneath blasting, simplistic black metal. So, in a few ways, this entire last demo appears to be a picture of...the process of "pagan metal" coming north from Eastern Europe and altering, transfiguring, or corrupting (depending on one's biases) the "pure" black/thrash of Hellkult's earlier efforts like a particularly voracious retrovirus. To be honest, I prefer the earlier work...not because it is somehow more "Finnish" or traditional, but because it seems, in its unadorned, unaffected, limited scope, to be more primal, closer to the heart of the first desires of this band.

Sound quality throughout this disc varies, although the production standards within each demo section stays pretty close to a set average. I prefer the sound of the first demo as well...mainly because of the reverberating vocals, the pounding, clicking drums, and the hazy, indeterminate, unprofessional guitars that appear there. It sounds like it was recorded in a dank, dark basement, and that truly underground presence (sorry for the pun) is more "evocative" in my opinion than all of the pseudo-pagan riffing that rears its ugly head in the later material.

For Azaghal or Wyrd completists only, if these exist, or those Finnish-obsessed fetishists wishing to trace the progression of pagan metal ideas throughout a traditional black metal band's initial years of existence.