NAGELFAR — Hünengrab im Herbst (review)

NAGELFAR — Hünengrab im Herbst album cover Album · 1997 · Pagan Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
While Scandinavia ruled the black metal world in the early 90s, it didn’t take long for other regions of the world to jump into the grimy darkened pits of musical extremity and find their own unique spin on the underlying paradigm. Germany’s NAGELFAR was one of the early birds to the German black metal scene having formed in 1993 by guitarist Zorn and drummer Rykthius von Meilenwald, now known as Alexander von Meilenwald (who would later become the one-man band Ruins Of Beverest). Right from the beginning the duo made a promise to only continue the NAGELFAR project if the two of them were in it, and so they did although they would include many changing lineups of hired help. Joining Zorn and Meilenwald in time for their debut was vocalist Jander, bassist Weidmann Sveinn Hacklenberg and keyboardist Garvin.

The name NAGELFAR comes from Norse mythology and is the German spelling for “Naglfar” which is also the name of a totally different Swedish black metal band. The “Naglfar” was a boat made entirely from the fingernails and toenails of the dead. Now THAT’S fucking black metal metal!!! While missing the original second wave of the black metal scene, NAGELFAR took their time to hone their craft and forge a new style that would become known as Pagan black metal, a style that had already been tried with bands like Primordial, Samain, Voluspaa and most famously Ulver on their successful debut “Bergtatt: Et eeventyr i 5 capitler,” but on their 1997 debut HÜNENGRAB IM HERBST, the band forged a new brand of Pagan black metal that sounded like no other from the era and to this day still has an air of uniqueness despite the legions of similarly styled bands to have hit the scene in the past two decades.

Much like the second wave of bombastic Scandinavian strain of black metal, NAGELFAR implements all the expected black metal bombs such as buzzsaw guitar riffing with tremolo picking, orotund blastbeat intensity, unhinged shrieked vocals and an overall gloomy and darkened atmosphere, however as much as NAGELFAR turned to Norwegian bands like Darkthrone, Emperor and Immortal for inspiration, so too did they adopt the Viking metal characteristic of Bathory’s second career phase that eschewed venomous anti-Christian rhetoric, Satanic obsessions and misanthropy and instead installed the lyrical contents of Paganism, mythology and folklore that explored the themes of nature and the depths of the human soul. While the extreme black metal elements dominate, they are intricately entwined with less frantic segments that include epic sung clean vocals, melodic use of acoustic guitars and pianos and an airy synthesized ambient background that hovers over the metal bombast like an incessant ice storm in Lapland. NAGELFAR also debuted their love of electronically comprised industrial sounds that would be more prominent on future releases.

The seven tracks that make up HÜNENGRAB IM HERBST are constructed differently enough to keep the album interesting throughout the near hour long run. Germanic folk melodies prevail as the underpinning of the compositional constructs and thus emphasize the Pagan ritualistic aura that surrounds the frenetic black metal outbursts. The tracks are also epic in scope as two tracks exceed the fourteen minute mark and the overall compositions exude an avant-garde flair that is more epic than the standard second wave black metal album of the era. In a way, NAGELFAR crafted the black metal extension of Bathory who had deemphasized black metal in favor of a new style called Viking metal. HÜNENGRAB IM HERBST develops themes presented by Enslaved and sounds sort of like what they (Enslaved) would conjure up if they had fused with Amorphis around the “Tales From The Thousand Lakes” era, a sound that fuses black metal and folk metal so perfectly that it takes on an entirely new sheen.

This one was love at first listen and has only gotten better after repeated listens. The warring factions of bombastic black metal, melodic atmospheric folk elements and pseudo-progressive epical compositional fortitude give HÜNENGRAB IM HERBST a long lasting impression and has become one of Germany’s best black metal exports. The album has been released on both the Kettenhund label and the Van label with two completely different album covers that depict the same levitating boulder from different angle points. This one has remained a favorite Pagan black metal album on my playlist for many years as it holds up remarkably well, offering a well-balanced journey through black metal bombast, Pagan folk reverie and melodic with an edge splendor. NAGELFAR would release two more albums “Srontgorrth” and “Virus West” before they would dissolve the band but this debut would never be topped as it displays all the building blocks of an utterly addictive emersion session!
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