Taake + Helheim @ Velvet Underground, Toronto

Infamous Norwegian black metallers Taake have endured a headache of a journey crossing the Atlantic for their North American tour. Their American visas were not approved before the tour kicked off, resulting in dates being canceled on a day-by-day basis with just a couple of days notice at most, hoping the visas would arrive the following day. To compound problems, synthwave lover of the ‘80s Gost was to ride along but as the management was spending funds to sort out Taake’s issue. Gost was left to fund his own transport, which proved too costly with such uncertainty and forced him drop off the entire tour. Fortunately, Viking metallers Helheim had their American visas approved earlier and revived some sparsely attended American dates solo. Taake received their Canadian visas before that jaunt of the tour began, meaning only Gost was absent tonight.

Despite consistently deploying full lengths since 1995, Norway’s Helheim remain grossly underrated.
They began life as a vocally-violent black metal act and eventually transformed into a progressive-minded Viking metal band, à la Enslaved. This marks their maiden voyage in Canada and bassist/vocalist H’grimnir articulates his appreciation of finally playing before a busy venue on this tour. The sound is murky and given the lengthy atmospheric and complex prog arrangements contained in the music, this seems to disengage the audience. The setlist almost exclusively concerns itself with last year’s LandawarijaR album with songs like the more pronounced blackened “Baklengs mot intet”, the sprightly melodically-led “Rista blodørn” and the otherworldly “Ymr”.

Helheim hover around Kampfar’s nature-worshipping black metal, Viking Bathory’s battle-hardened tones and later Enslaved’s dream-like atmospheres. Drawn out riffs, a wealth of proggy guitar, muscular bass lines and admirable solos traverse through the Velvet Underground. Vocals tussle between black growls or Viking clean singing but the latter is hurt by poor sound. The four members are humble in between tracks and maintain a vigorous stage presence. Bands like Helheim utilizing the usual metal instruments take longer to reach folk/pagan appreciators and are generally only exposed to black metal purists, who overlook them. The strongest reaction for these Scandinavians is when Taake mainman Hoest jumps in to growl the closing song with aplomb. Nonetheless, Helheim put on a formidable effort but this was not the most appropriate audience.

The venue comes alive as headliners Taake begin their set of true Norwegian black metal in a roomier venue than their appearance at last year’s Hard Luck bar. Sole member Hoest is particularly energized by being able to actually perform and makes his point so. Over the years, he has altered his black metal from the traditionally second wave sound to more rhythmic, almost black ‘n’ roll aesthetic and newer fans will usually discuss his use of banjo. Tonight he draws from across his discography. Older songs such as “Hordalands doedskvad Pt. I” and “Over Bjoergvin graater himmerik IV” summon thick bleak atmospheres while newer numbers the meandering “Myr” (minus the banjo) and the solemn “Orkan” vary composition tones and are better tailored to a live setting.

Hoest has never been one to obey the fist of political correctness. Demonstrating his solidarity with London and the recent terrorist attacks that plagued the capital city, the frontman remarks: “I used to live in London. Fuck Allah! Fuck Mohammed!”, which appears to generate a mixed response from the Toronto crowd – but Hoest is not a stranger to anti-Islam sentiments. Masked in faded corpsepaint, he looks menacing but unlike plenty of black metal bands he is willing to positively acknowledge his fans, even letting them select the final song of the night. The punchy “Orm” features hypnotic guitar work that donates another weapon to Taake’s cadre. This incites moshing and wild headbanging and sees the set off flawlessly. Helnorsk Svartmetall stands defiant tonight.