Hellige - Demo
Cavernous and murky, Hellige’s 2012 Demo is a fantastic march right down the line between black and doom metal, combining the best aspects of both genres. The first thing you may notice is how the deep rhythm guitar acts out the music tectonically, slowly shifting but with massive movements that parallel the bass line. This makes the core of the music incredibly heavy. On the production side, this demo is full of low end frequencies so the deeper parts come out fully and with rich timbre. All of the music’s subparts are drenched in reverb, which helps give the demo its cavernous sound. However, the key to the atmosphere is how the band melds all of the composition’s parts together.
The often slow and plodding rhythm shows a clear influence from the more radical fringes of doom. While some of the black metal influences include the usual tremolo picking, the overall lineage to that genre often comes through with crafty subtly. Tremolo picking is used either sparingly such as on “A Philosopher’s Crown” or in a way where it is not immediately obvious such as on “Obnubilum.” This lets the band put black metal’s wall of sound atmosphere to better use than most black metal bands do. Rather than an assault of repeated notes, the tremolo picking colors the overall music and is almost hidden by the reverb and massive bass end. Another subtle black metal influence on the guitars can be heard in the dark (tritone) oriented lead riffs throughout the album. As the doomier riffs march along in low notes, the odd almost dissonant black metalish melodies tactfully ring out to add more memorable character to the riffs.
All of this makes the music almost overbearing, and it can leave you fatigued. Long songs work to amplify this effect, yet the band avoids creating a repetitive atmosphere like we see all too often in both doom and DSBM. “Degraded to Mortals” is an excellent example of Hellige doing this, and the obvious interlude in the middle clearly shows how the song develops from point A to B. This great songwriting ability keeps the long songs interesting yet still entirely coherent. In fact, the demo provides several moments for the weary to rest, some of the songs include both intro and outro sections which offer momentary relief from the crushingly heavy atmosphere. However, no particular part of the album jumps out from the murky atmosphere as marvelously perfect.
Vocally, Hellige uses a variety of styles but the predominant ones alternate between resembling Nocturno Culto’s work on “Soulside Journey” and “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” but with deeper and doomier death metal vocals. Other vocal styles include the profoundly ominous and quiet choir-type vocals in the later part of “Obnubilum” and the howling rasps toward the end of “A Philosopher’s Crown.” Overall, the vocals serve much in the way as the lead guitar, adding color and texture to the song rather than carrying the all of the melody as is seen in other bands. What is refreshing is how restrained the band is in this respect. Hellige lets you mull over each part of the music without feeling the need to fill every last second of their songs with vocals.
Oddly enough, it is the drumming that usually forces the band’s energy forward. One can imagine what this demo would sound like with constant run of the mill blast beats or constantly slow and boring doom type drumming and either situation would be detrimental. Instead the drumming is fantastically dynamic and creative. The way that rhythm and apparent speed are connected is nothing less than artful. What makes it odd is that the drums are the best ingredient on this excellent demo because most metal is really guitar oriented. Keep in mind that the drums are not carrying dead weight but merely forcing fantastic music forward. While Hellige is far from drum music, if you listen to “The Rotten Waste” the fantastic drum work should become readily apparent, particularly at around four minutes in. Killer beats and monstrous fills.
Given that this is a demo, it may seem petty to point out minor flaws. But there is nothing major for which the band could be faulted aside from a lack of any truly awe inspiring riffs. Therefore the demo is great, but could be better. A minor reason this demo is not closer to perfection is how the tone of the bass and rhythm guitars comes off as a bit weak. While the sound is rich, it still lacks a little bit of that kind of distorted tone that makes music like this all the more overbearing and powerful. While it can be hard to strike the right balance between a cavernous reverb saturated sound and an aggressive guitar tone, Hellige only barely missed the mark. I would prefer something closer to Mournful Congregation’s distortion along with all of Hellige’s reverb. In other words, everything on the low rhythm and on the bass just comes off as slightly too soupy. Aside from that, the band might be able to get a slightly better sound with spiffier production but this demo is so good that we are really talking about marginal improvements.
The fact that the band was able to provide over forty minutes of such high quality music on this demo shows that Hellige’s excellence is not merely fleeting. As this is their third demo in as many years that point should be clear. It stands to reason that as they keep making music that the minor imperfections will be ironed out and the band will release stuff that is damn near perfection. With Hellige, everything just works.
You can check out and download some of Hellige’s music here: http://helligearg.bandcamp.com/