Is everything old new again? Are we back on loving the second wave of black metal? I can’t keep track. Maybe it just takes someone new to the field, bringing a level of execution that makes people look up and go “Oh yeah…there WAS a reason this thing birthed a whole series of sub genres and offshoots and the such.” Hulder, the solo black metal project certainly knows how to deliver a forceful, tightly woven black metal album, and on their latest mini LP The Eternal Fanfare show that injecting a more robust production doesn’t take away from the general necro vibe, and that – done right – there’s still vitality in a sound folks starting railing against almost as soon as it came out.
One of the things I love about black metal – the early second wave in particular – is the deceptiveness of the music. Move past the tinny production and levels of noise and in the best bands you’ll find a level of sophistication in the songwriting that’s on par with many other kinds of metal. Far from being an afterthought, the use of melody and harmony when crafting tremolo lines and keyboards accompaniment are essential ingredients to the best outfits, whether they’re a complete unit or a 1-person band. Last year’s Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry showed that Hulder more than learned those lessons: behind the icy atmosphere her music is rife with subtle melodies and atmospherics that only enhance the more brutal elements. You can hear elements as varied as DSBM and Celtic Frost (check out the inspired cover of “Into The Crypts of Rays” on the De Oproeping Van Middeleeuwse Duisternis compilation) in her riff construction.
If Godslastering was the raw clarion call to a fresh voice in the genre, then The Eternal Fanfare does dual duty by confirming Hulder’s approach to classic black metal was no fluke and that under the new umbrella of 20 Buck Spin there’s room to refine and expand the sonic palette. First track “Curse From Beyond” shows how an introduction done right can lead the listener into the right framework for what’s to come. We also get a small taste of Holder’s clean vocal work, as ethereal chants mix with pads and idyllic percussion (a fairway bell tolls, small chimes trickle in like ghosts with the keys) to create a level of anticipation for the chainsaw guitar that launches “Burden of Flesh and Bone”. It’s a ferocious track, and the newly added bottom end opens the song up for a wider attack. When it cuts to the keyboard interlude it feels cohesive thanks to the overture nature of the opening track.
From there The Eternal Fanfare continues its steady trajectory. Although it’s safe to assume there’s nothing new being injected into the genre, the songs definitely show growth and expansion. “Sylvan Awakening” again utilizes clean vocals as background to the more traditional screams, and dynamics are employed to greater effect. You can’t discount that production bump, either: the guitars sound fantastic, with just the right amount of bite and mixed again the drums to produce a truly large sound. The title track is a monster, going full out after a desiccated inhalation from Hell, and closer “A Perilous Journey” takes a small step back to imbue the album’s ending with a more majestic, well…fanfare, if I’m being honest.
There may be those who are listening to The Eternal Fanfare and reading all the hype and wondering why? It’s true there’s no new ground being broken, but I think a point is being missed here: With 1,001 bedroom bands attempting to emulate the past the focus is all too often on the obvious: crappy production, zero bass, and lyrics that indulge in bloated and overused conceits. Hulder ignores all that, and focuses on the things that really matter: the songwriting, the arrangements, and the execution, using the more obvious stakes of the genre to ground the music in something both identifiable and mysterious. This shows that with a great label behind her, there’s room to explore and go deeper, and I can’t wait to hear what happens next.
The Eternal Fanfare is available July 1 on 20 Buck Spin. For more information on Hulder check out their website and Facebook/Instagram pages.