Helga – Wrapped in Mist


Helga Gabriel’s love of rural Sweden is as natural as her appreciation for clean air. She grew up as a wanderer of the Nordic forests, as a dweller of woodlands, as an admirer of tall trees with unfathomable bird nests. Immortalising this awe in artistic form is her calling in life. Now based in one of England’s underappreciated cities, in York, she might have the chance to realise her goal with the help of three childhood friends who bonded over a love of post-rock, black metal, folk, and progressive metal. It’s a story as fortuitous as the linear notes of all the reissues by the great artists.

Season of Mist sat on Helga’s demos for three years before they realised the wonders that lay in their spam folder. No doubt, album opener and lead single, ‘Skogen mumlar’, converted them to the cause. Here, a mystical voice navigates through the melodies like a religious devotee reciting a mantra while polyrhythmic guitars bubble in the mix like scurrying badgers. A screeching violin talks to the drop-tuned guitar crunches in an incompatible language of mutual understanding. Listen to the onomatopoeia of the words come to life in the middle eight like an incantation. Part Sinead O’Connor, part Myrkur, Helga Gabriel’s tonsils are the source of this music’s colourful textures.

Behind her is a band of many talents. Their progressive musicianship is minimalist in its sophistication and manifold in its shades of colour. That does not mean they always get it right. A simple two-note guitar arpeggio provides the underwhelming melody for the vocals in ‘Burden’ before the drums enter, and the riff intensifies into a piece of multi-layered post-rock. Helga’s observation that “It’s a big world,” presents you with an uplifting chorus of unfulfilled potential. You can hear a Cocteau Twins influence in the mellifluous strum of the guitar chords and the sparkle of the melodies.

Naturally, there’s a mystique and a wide-eyed romanticism in this art. Can anything in the human imagination capture the true splendour of a waterfall in an evergreen forest? How we convey the overwhelming beauty of this experience is one of the biggest preoccupations of our artistic impulses as human beings. The vocal harmonies in ‘Water’ rise and perspire with great effort, yet they produce a relaxing effect. A paradox emerges when the violent power chords intrude upon this eco-system like dangerous beasts who have more of a right to this habitat than you ever will.

The guitarists love the minor chords as much as Helga Gabriel likes to dazzle you with her captivating hand movements at the microphone. Her deeper contralto phrasings ache with sorrow in ‘If Death Comes Now’ – the higher register moments less so. ‘Farväl’ is just as intriguing. One moment you have an icepack on your forehead, the next moment you feel your arms shiver. Why is there an unrealised fear in the emotions of this music? A rare episode of animalistic aggression possesses Helga Gabriel in this song, like a mania that takes control of its subject. It would be interesting to see the mouth shapes Helga produces to reach for the most ethereal notes in her register. There’s an incredulous joy at the heart of this music, like the wonderments of being alive in a utopian environment. But darker shadows gather in the background. Then you realise that this Garden of Eden existence cannot always shield you from the dangers that lie beyond its frontiers.

Helga’s English song titles give a good indication of their mood. ‘Vast and Wild’ subsists on pleading vocal chants while the spoons provide the main rhythms. Listen how the violins wrap them in human loneliness. Be observant. Follow the luscious navigation of the harmonies as they work through the octaves like pleasant fragrances. Helga will help you create your own imaginary world. You can conjure the most remarkable things if you focus your mind and imagine them into existence. ‘Som en trumma’ is almost triumphant in this regard, but you must abandon your cerebral observations and give in to the unintelligible thrill of surrendering to a higher power. The brazen guitar distortion gives you the energy you need to transcend your mundane existence. Yet you must ask: where are the new realities that need to materialise in this moment of abandonment?

Wrapped in Mist demands an investment of time but repeat listens will transplant you to the autumn glow of a Swedish forest or the bracken crunch of the Yorkshire moors if you close your eyes.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 24/11/2023

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout tracks: Skogen mumlar, Water, Farväl

Suggested Further Listening: Anna Von Hausswolff – The Miraculous (2015), Myrkur – Mareridt (2017), Obsidian Kingdom – Meat Machine (2020)