Hellir Spin the “Wheel of Ghosts” and Re-Envision Black Metal and Synthpop (Review)

Published: February 09, 2024

Daniel Shaneyfelt is no stranger to the black metal game: the Asheville, NC-based tattoo artist has put in time in such 828BM acts as the legendary Black Mountain Hunger and cult black’n’rollers Low Earth. These bands have been linked by a certain “Asheville” vibe: a combination of old-school Appalachian gothic cultural bedrock with sleek modernism and innovation. Now, however, Mr. Shaneyfelt has put true voice to this aesthetic with a new, self-released single-man project, Hellir and a strong debut LP, Wheel of Ghosts. Self-described as “if black metal forgot to go fast and mixed with ’80s synthpop,” the result is an album that is both grandiose and also strangely intimate, serious in its intent and execution but with an undeniable and irresistible enthusiasm.

The music on Wheel of Ghosts will be familiar to most, but competently executed in instrumentation and production and with some left-field surprises. “Hellir” translates from Old Norse as “Cave” (a fitting tribute to the Scandinavian blackened fordere) and be not afeared, there’s reverb for days. But it’s not a cave in the filthy, primordial sense: imagine instead a deeply liminal, completely empty parking garage, or maybe an auditorium. Riffs are allowed to chew a little without going overboard on duration, and drums are big huge with a nicely slapping snare. At times, it transitions to funeral doom right under your nose. The black metal vocals are executed professionally and in the style of the greats, with a couple solid death metal gurgles for extra credit, and clean vocals can be heard wafting in and out from time to time. And finally, as promised, there are synths, lots of synths but never distracting synths. They shimmer along beneath the guitars, lifting them like a cushion, and panning is used effectively to make them stand out when necessary. And holy shit, there is a friggin’ sex-sax break on “Moria” that doesn’t sound completely out of place! I can’t help but think of Cradle of Filth given the vaporwave treatment when I listen to this album, slowed and reverbed for maximum nocturnal a e s t h e t i c .

Speaking of aesthetic, if one examines Mr. Shaneyfelt’s tattoo art, as on his Instagram page dashtattoos, the aesthetic exegesis of Hellir becomes apparent. 80s and 90s horror art and motifs, gothic shibboleths from a bygone era, detailed visions of ancient gods, and blood red moons, all hint at the 80s-20s synthesis vision which Hellir presents. Songs on the album directly reference Lord of the Rings and the Legend of Zelda, and never does it wallow in the usual mire of black metal self-seriousness. I should note here that, in my opinion, the field has never been more primed for such singular and iconoclastic visions of what black metal can be if allowed to grow. For example, Agriculture’s hyper-Liturgy major-key bliss assaults or Lepra’s Scooby-Doo mansion on black acid vibes. Hell, just look at Disfiguring the Goddess’ “slambient” to see similar rumblings in death metal. Something like Hellir, which blends the introverted coldness of the first wave of black metal with the luxe stylings of post-internet synth- and vaporwave, is absolutely of a piece with the zeitgeist even if it does not sound anything like any of those other projects. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” as they say.

Wheel of Ghosts is now streaming on all platforms, with a physical release planned for later in the year. The project has recently performed live for the first time, so be advised if you live in the Upper Southeast.

Rock / Metal / Alternative
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