Written by: AP on 20/05/2016 15:50:24

It was always in the cards that Helhorse would stage a crusade toward the mainstream, the level of ambition seething beneath the surface of their excellent sophomore album ”Oh Death”, not to mention their securing of an opening slot for AC/DC’s concert in Roskilde last summer considered. The only question left unanswered was how?, and now with this third, self-titled outing, the likely-to-be polarising methods for attaining a more widespread appeal are laid bare. Be warned, ye’ old fans of Helhorse: this is the most radical change the Copenhagen sextet has introduced since abolishing the Dødning moniker, and it would be naïve to imagine it not offending the expectations of a sizable contingent of their disciples.

On a brighter note however, the band’s frontman Mikkel Wad Larsen has upped the ante to a staggering degree, delivering his finest vocal performances yet. Whether deploying a subdued baritone, a mighty whiskey-soaked roar, a chilling falsetto howl, or a powerful clean voice, Larsen’s bravado and breadth stretches well past his former self on the likes of “Among the Wolves” and “Fortune Favours the Bold”, a ballad reminiscent of Baroness’ newer, slower creations. His voice sounds more controlled, more mature; and thus serves dutifully in the context of the album’s arena-enveloping style. Speaking of which, it is inevitably the tempering of Helhorse’s signature off-the-hinges ferocity in favour of balladry and ‘the big rock song’ that becomes the main point of discussion (and division) here. It works on occasion — the submerged clean notes of guitarists Stefan C. Krabsen & Jakob Møgelvang, and the elegant swathes of Hammond organ by Aske Kristiansen combine beautifully with Larsen’s moody singing in “Fortune Favours the Bold”, and the marriage of dirty, southern fried rock’n’roll riffage with a huge chorus works magic for “Hell of a Ride” as well — but the overall impression one is left with is that Helhorse is still very much embroiled in a process of transformation. On “Oh Death”, virtually every song rubbed off on you almost instantly, whereas with “Helhorse” one needs to make a concerted effort to unearth the standout moments, fewer and further in between, and less striking when they do appear.

Both of the aforementioned songs have the necessary characteristics to become surefire live staples, but at the same time, I find myself longing for the fickle erraticism of those punk and hardcore -fuelled takes, and the crushing, riff-heavy doom epics that were found in abundance on both “Oh Death” and its predecessor “For Wolves and Vultures”. The two aspects, both so central to my infatuation with Helhorse, have been toned down to a significant extent, with just the initial segment of “My Haven / Your Hell” catering to my lust for gloom, and only “Hell of a Ride” and the bombastic “No Fucks Given” (which features an ornate vocal cameo by Rebecca Lou Armstrong) really offering flashes of the freneticism and fuck yeah! attitude that draws me toward the pit — not least because Kristiansen’s more deranged backing vocals enjoy a greater role in them. Indeed, the change feels too drastic and certainly too sudden for a long standing connoisseur to soak it all in, and as such it is left to these bastions of Helhorse’s former personage to carry the weight. The full-on arena rockers like “Carry Your Own” and “Among the Wolves” have their merits, but at just 36 minutes of running length (nearly four of which is occupied by interludes) you would expect every song to slay.

It is with a heavy heart that I jot down these thoughts then, understanding exactly what Helhorse wanted to do with the record but conceding that perhaps “Helhorse” is more of a stepping stone than a genuine breakthrough. Try as I might, the merger of a more expansive production with a trimmed down, radio-friendly songwriting format never really stirs me in the way that “Oh Death” did — much of it feels too safe and predictable to etch itself into my longterm memory. Mind you, the material is clearly designed to be played live, so I withhold that there is a chance “Helhorse” could open up to me when put to the real test in concert and particularly at a festival, where this stuff is going to sound absolutely massive (especially if Theis Roed Thorgersen can translate that brutal bass tone into the live setting). As a personal listening experience however, there is no escaping a disappointed sensation, knowing full well the magnitude of talent packed into this band.


Download: Fortune Favours the Bold, Hell of a Ride, No Fucks Given
For the fans of: (newer) Baroness, (newer) Maylene & the Sons of Disaster
Listen: Facebook

Release date 13.05.2016
Spinefarm Records

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