After the explosive 90’s of Norwegian Black Metal, not much of that bustling prolific and high-quality scene was still intact by the mid 2000’s. Sure, bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Satyricon and Immortal were still around and bands like Taake and Tsjuder had surfaced, but in terms of activity and popularity the scene had taken a large step back. Things would change towards the end of the decade, in large part due to the rise of the Nidrosian Black Metal scene, but every now and then some new Norwegian band would arise. Throne of Katarsis gained quite significant interest, although I must confess, I was never fully convinced them. On the side, band member Thor Erik Helgesen also had his solo project. First under the banner of Grimnisse and later as Skuggeheim, he released one demo, a split with Wulkanaz and a series of EPs, but the project was long hidden in obscurity. That is until 2023, when Terratur Possesions in cooperation with the man behind the band himself collected the entire body of work of Skuggeheim as a 3CD entitled ‘Samlede Verker’, as well as on three separate LPs. Considering that these CDs are individually titled bearing the same name as the LP releases, this review will apply to both the CD version as well as each separate LP.
The first record ‘Vinterrikets Konge’ contains the demo of the same name along with two bonus tracks. Originally this was released in 2003 under the band name Grimnisse, and it features by far the most gritty and Lo-Fi out of the recordings. It’s fair to say that all the material of Skuggeheim is raw in production, but despite careful remastering the sound remains rough around the edges. Not a problem for the seasoned Black Metal fan, but something to keep in mind. Despite it being the earliest demo, ‘Vinterrikets Konge’ already shows the band with a clear idea of their sound. In particular tracks like ‘Vinterrikets Konge’ and ‘Avgrunnen’ present Skuggeheim aat its most vicious and vile. Unsettling raw Black metal, eerie and skindcrawling that is predominantly blazing in tempo besides some unsettling slower melodies. Think of Darkthrone mixed with Arckanum at the time of ‘Trulen’, ‘Fran Marder’ and ‘Kostogher’, mixed with a bit of the atonality of the French scene. Some Pagan riffs with a slight epic touch make their way to the music as well, and acoustic guitars and ambient samples already then were part of the band’s sound. Thor Erik Helgesen’s pained screams make for a perfect complement to it all. A cover version of the Darkthrone song ‘En Vind Av Sorg’ wasn’t originally part of the demo and with a slower and more brooding interpretation of parts of the song provides an interesting twist to the original. Altogether a demo that for its time was exceptional, not in terms of origininality, but certainly in its pitchblack atmosphere and gnarly appearance.
On ‘Koldheitas Spekter’ we find demo recordings that were previously unreleased. It doesn’t present a large departure from the material of the first demo, but does sound a little more accessible, although it is still very raw and Lo-Fi. These seem to be taken from a few different sessions judging by the sound, with ‘Andakt’ sounding the rawest out of the bunch. It also presents slightly different elements that fit well in the Skuggeheim sound. ‘Mellom Djevelens Finger’ is a more droning song with repetitive structures. Especially a song like ‘Koldheitas Spekter’ is slightly more depressive in nature. It also seems somewhere after the first demo the music took a turn to a slightly more melancholic and depressive sound, with more frequent drops in pace included, which comes back in a song like ‘Koldheitas Spekter’. Although more uptempo than others, tracks like ‘Begravd Blandt Granlrær’ and ‘Andakt’ are particularly unsettling with shifting and atonal riffs and some of the most haunting vocals, at times approaching the style of the Les Légions Noires scene of Finnish bands such as Warloghe that based their music initially on that. Capping off the demo is ‘Fulibyrdot’, a song that was originally released as part of the split with Wulkanaz. With a disturbing tonality the song starts off on a discomforting tone until it explodes with full force, and sinister keys contribute to an altogether suffocating atmosphere. Since most of this material was never released it certainly is an interesting document of the band’s work, and a logical link between ‘Vinterrikets Konge’ and the EPs that feature on the third disk.
The final part of the trilogy of sorts is ‘Daudssyklus’, or ‘Daudssyklusen’ when it comes to the separate LP release. The material here is the compilation of a series of EPs that were meant to be released in five parts, although the fifth EP ‘Ekko Frå Fortid – Fase Fem Av Fem’ was never released until now. Most of the EPs follow a similar pattern, where the first song consists of a Black Metal track in the vein of the earlier material and the second song is an instrumental ambient or acoustic track. The, let’s call them, conventional Black Metal tracks ‘Jærteikn’, ‘Dolk’ and ‘Evig Mørke’ each rank among some of the best material the band has done, showing a similar style and sound as the earlier recordings. I think the biggest difference is finetuning the sound, providing slightly more versatility compared to the earliest material The instrumental songs work particularly well in tying all the songs together, giving a feeling that indeed these EPs were meant to be part of a whole. On the fourth EP, ‘Fanga i endeløyse’ from 2014, the pattern is broken, featuring two instrumental tracks. ‘Eksistens’ has an enchanting nature, with a disturbing and melancholic distorted riffs against a backdrop of background keys providing a haunting atmosphere. It’s a truly astonishing instrumental piece that despite its length manages to captivate and pierce the soul. ‘Liv Og Daud Har Opphøyrt’ carries a similar sad tone, a piano track that reminds me somewhat of Lestat’s Theme from the move ‘Interview with a Vampire’. After three instrumental and often calm tracks in a row I half-expected the final EP to follow the same pattern, but the previously unreleased ‘Ekko Frå Fortid’ kicks off with one of the most blazing Skuggeheim tracks ‘Å Gå I Gløymsle’, one of the finest and most diverse, melancholic and skincrawling tracks that are compiled on the record. ‘Sirkelen Er Slutta’ closes the circle of the five EPs in a midpaced and gripping manner, focusing on melancholy before an ambient outro calls for the end of Skuggeheim. With that, ‘Daudssyklus’ shows Skuggeheim at its most organic, flowing yet also most refined while the raw and Lo-Fi essence is still as alive and breathing as ever before.
The three-part collection of all the Skuggeheim shows a band that never really burst out of the dark when Norway’s Black Metal was recovering strength and ultimately retake the world with renewed vigor. Ferocious and raw, unsettling and melancholic, yet entrancing and gripping, the music finally steps out of obscurity. No doubt this is something that the avid fan of the Norwegian Black Metal scene will want to delve into.