Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Album Review: Hellveto - Neoheresy

Hellveto - Neoheresy

Artist: Hellveto (Poland)
Album Title: Neoheresy
Record Label: Pulverised Records (Singapore)
Released: 2008 (October)

One-man orchestral pagan metal project Hellveto is known for being prolific, having released several albums (and compilations, EP's, and demo reissues) since his proper debut album, Autumnal Night, in 2002. It's difficult to make any sense of the Hellveto discography, since there have been so many reissues and out-of-order album releases that one practically needs to become a Hellveto scholar in order to sort through them. Between 2005 and the end of 2007, there were ten full-length Hellveto releases, though most of the material had been recorded prior to 2005 and is made up of reissued demos, EP's, and albums that had not yet been given proper releases. Although this had the unfortunate effect of devaluing his music somewhat, these were years of feasting for Hellveto fans such as myself. Each song on each album is epic and dense, with (sampled or synthesized) orchestral and occasional choral elements weaving within the guitar, bass, drums, and harsh vocals. It's gorgeous and breathtaking music, though it often takes several listens for each piece of music to stand out from the others due to the often-singular sound that Hellveto employs.

There have been occasional wrinkles to the so-called "Hellveto formula," as well as a subtle progression over the years. Beginning with 2004's In Arms of Kurpian Phantom, L.O.N. (the moniker of the man behind Hellveto) began using live drums instead of the weak drum machine sounds used on earlier material. On 2005's Klatwa, the rather-flat sound of earlier releases was greatly improved, and material recorded beginning with that release use more panning and depth. On 2006's In the Glory of Heroes, Hellveto briefly experimented with distorted vocals similar to the ones Burzum employed on Filosofem.

On Neoheresy there is yet another large improvement to the production. The overall sound is "punchier" and more powerful than ever before. Though on most releases the guitars and drums are given generally the same levels as the synth and orchestral elements (resulting in a more classical sound than metal), on Neoheresy the metal elements are emphasized. The vocals are still somewhat buried, but the drums, bass, and guitar are clearly audible, while the orchestral and choral elements take a more supporting role than before. They're certainly there, and there's still an incredible amount of detail in the compositions, but you have to listen a little harder to be able to hear those details. Because of this, Neoheresy works on at least two different levels: it's immediately gratifying compared to most Hellveto works, but there's still that depth to be discovered upon repeat listens. Nice bits of choral vocal lines appear where you didn't notice them earlier, you begin to notice the classical-sounding guitar behind the bombastic drums and power chords, etc. There's a seemingly unlimited musical treasure to be unearthed within the dense framework of each of the six songs on Neoheresy, which has been the case with Hellveto for the last several years and over a dozen releases.

Neoheresy is also the only Hellveto release to appear in 2008, which practically feels like a drought when compared to the past few years. Upon listening to the final result, which is a wonderful (if brief) album, it's obvious that L.O.N. spent a great amount of time working on this album. A few tracks from these sessions appeared on last year's Crusade EP (packaged together with the reissue of Autumnal Night), but those songs, production-wise, sound nowhere near as good as the six that appear on Neoheresy do. L.O.N. is a master of his craft, an isolated genius of a composer and musician that continues to work on his own terms. I feel that, even if there weren't an audience to receive this music (which there is, and it has been growing), Hellveto would still be recording and releasing this stuff on CD-R or something, just as he was back in 2003. Which is not to say that L.O.N. doesn't care about his audience. The fact that he has generously reissued or unearthed so much older material via his own Ritual Execution label or others proves that he's aware of the demand for his music. And he released a video for "Taran," the track that begins this album, through the official Hellveto website.

It seems useless to do a track-by-track analysis of Neoheresy, but I will mention that the songs that begin and end the album, "Taran" and "Sredniowieczna Egzekucja," are brilliant bookends. "Taran" is a driving, addicting, and even catchy piece of music, beginning the album with the sound of guitar and the powerful sound of horses' hooves. Then it evolves and builds gradually throughout its almost-seven minute running time. "Sredniowieczna Egzekucja" includes some beautiful choral moments, piano, blastbeats, and some great melodies to bring the album to a satisfying conclusion. It's the best Hellveto album-ending song since "....Ktos Ty?" from Zmierzch.

Overall, the compositions are simpler and more straightforward than on past releases, but I think Hellveto fans will be happy with this one. Other than the production, it's certainly no great leap forward, but it's a very solid album that, in my opinion at least, stands proudly among the best Hellveto has released. It also creates an excellent starting point for people who want to give Hellveto a try but are intimidated by the size of the discography. It appears, at least by the evidence presented within Neoheresy, that L.O.N. is still full of creative energy and shows no sign of becoming weary of creating this rich and epic music. And now that releases have slowed down to a normal pace, fans like myself can finally give each new album the attention it deserves. Those who dislike the unique "orchestral pagan black metal" sound of Hellveto probably won't be won over by Neoheresy, but, then again, maybe they will. It's arguably the most accessible of his releases, and, given the distribution Pulverised has, it should gain this gem of a project some greatly-deserved recognition from the larger metal underground community.

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