Few are aware that just five short years ago this region was a hotbed of heavy metal activity, with no fewer than 10 bands aiming to make their mark on the national underground music scene. Count forward, and those hammering blast-beats, crunching guitar riffs and rasping vocals have all gone a bit quiet. That is until the end of last year, when from the depths emerged the latest studio offering from local stalwarts, Eternal Helcaraxe.
The release timing of ‘In Times of Desperation’ on December 29 surprised many, particularly metal critics, some of whom had capitulated to festive slothfulness, and had published early drafts of their Top 10 Albums of 2017. Hastily scribbled addendums saw Helcaraxe’s second album pinned firmly to the pile, with some talking of ‘In Times of...’ as belonging amongst the pantheon of Irish metal music.
For the band at least, who hail from a Wexford-through-Dublin, and Cavan Town, the timing of the release is of little concern. Given the topsy-turvy nature of balancing band-life and real-life commitments, the trio of are simply happy to have it out there, and see how well it’s being received.
A 52.03 minute blitz of aggression, long in terms of your average metal album, ‘In Times of’ sees Helcaraxe evolve their sound further than ever before. Moulded with acoustic segments and synthesizers, Helcaraxe have built on the foundations of previous album ‘Against All Odds’, liberally layering Scandinavian-inspired black-metal with classical elements and chord progressions.
“I suppose people were maybe expecting [In Times of...] to be more melodic again. The first two songs we wrote were in my opinion two of the lightest we’ve ever done,” says Praetorian (AKA Rory McDonagh), who plays guitars, keyboards and howls lead vocals.
Those are - ‘Bannow’ - a stunning nine-minute-long track enhanced by the haunting vocal delivery of Shona McKeon, and the concluding ‘One Journey’.
Meanwhile, blazing energy emanates from the feral ‘End Of All Things’, ‘The Healer and the Cross’, and title track ‘In Times of Desperation’.
“For some reason, whatever was happening in our lives at the time, the song-writing took a completely different turn and took on a more aggressive sound. So it was kind of a surprise for us as well. It will always be black-metal, but the harshness is a place we’d never taken the music to before. We didn’t set out with a sound in mind, but when it started to develop that way we were happy to let it breed within itself,” says Praetorian, also of Naddred, Éadóchas, and ex-Primal Dawn and Sinister Demise.
Recorded at Jam Studios at Carnaross by producer Martin Quinn and released by German-label Naturmacht Productions, to complete the line-up Maulgrim (Mark Heslin) provides backing vocals and guitar to the album, while the intricate staccato drumming of Tyrith (Dermot McDonagh) drives everything forward.
At times a nod to scene legends such as Emperor, Cruachan and Immortal, searching for influence the band have found kindred spirits at least in metal bands emerging from Belgium and the Netherlands, such as Ancient Rites, as well as those from the former Eastern Bloc.
“With every release we put out, there has been a very visible progression. We have always been big fans of metal music and had been playing instruments years prior to the band forming.
“We’ve heard a lot of different descriptions of our style. People try to pigeon-hole you but we just play our own style of black metal. If people like it, great. If they don’t, well there’s always Ed Sheeran or whatever other crap is on the radio.
“I feel the songs on [In Times of...] are by far the best we’ve written to date.”
Even still, Praetorian says the band are already working on writing songs for a third album.
“I’ve stacks of notepads with lyrics. I might write everyday, once a week, or not at all for a few weeks, but every so often it comes to you and then it’s about searching for the sound to go with that,” Praetorian explains to The Anglo-Celt.
“Our music or at least the feeling behind it takes a lot of inspiration from the battle hymns sung by a warrior before going to fight. Win or lose, there would be an outcome no one ever backed down. Never compromise.”