October 5, 2021 — As a child, Janus Pedersen was fascinated by drums. Perhaps then, this explains the prevalence of percussion found in his dark-folk project Heldom. Surprise-launching his second album Vaknan a year after releasing his first LP, Heldom again taps into the neofolk tide.
Changed by the passage of time
With debut LP Myrkur (not to be confused with the fellow Danish folk/black metal vocalist of the same name), Heldom tapped into the darker sides of the Nordic folk spectrum. Vaknan does not shift enormously from this trajectory, but rather expands upon it in ways that become metronomic and almost ritualistic with each new composition. The evolution in sound is more focused on developing ideas and motifs introduced in Heldom’s previous record; as a result, Vaknan feels more fleshed out and realized, tapping into the ritualistic and shamanistic energy of a group like Heilung to lend extra poignance to the songs.
“Vaknan is a bold expansion of the identity Heldom had already established with debut album Myrkur, building on ideas in a way that feels natural to the artistry.”
Building blocks of a symphony
Ambient sound serves an important role in each song’s foundation. While the rhythms themselves seem to come from a variety of materials (stone, wood, possibly even bone can be heard jangling across the record like a neofolk answer to Stomp), it is the usage of elemental sounds like the crackling of a fire, the whisper of running water or the ever-present hiss of wind that tap most into the Nordic associations with nature. In turn, this enhances the sense of authenticity Heldom seeks to create, dropping the listener into the midst of a landscape fleshed out by the myriad sounds in each composition.
A snare for the senses
Through repetition and sheer force of atmospherics, Heldom ensnares the senses throughout Vaknan. Early instrumental compositions like ‘Styrjold’ use ambient sound like a net to frame all other instruments, each new sound adding an extra lure to the snare.
Further into the record, the title composition sees a shift in approach from dark ambient minimalism to more layered structures with more prominent string instrumentation and vocal melodies. Such melodies do not lift the listener out of the roiling mists of sound; instead, they accentuate the darkness, providing an additional sense of claustrophobia which perfectly plays into the tone Heldom evokes.
Out of 10
- Vaknan’s usage of tone and ambiance is exceptional in building a rich, immersive world to engage the listener.
- Building on themes of shamanism, the percussive elements become almost ritualistic over time, pulling the listener deeply into the world Heldom has constructed.
- The experience requires the investment of attention and is not immediately accessible to listeners unfamiliar with Heldom.
- Rooted in dark ambiance, the record lacks too many of the sonic journey properties generally found in neofolk.
The appearance of fellow-Dane Danheim as a guest on ‘Runamal’ feels especially indicative of where Heldom exists within the wider neofolk pantheon — a kindred spirit to the genre’s darkest inclinations, not so much tapping into Nordic culture as a source of light against the modern world, but as a deep-dive into the shadowy realm between cultural memory and history, myth and imagination.
Vaknan is a bold expansion of the identity Heldom had already established on Myrkur, building on ideas in a way that feels natural to the artistry. Ultimately these ideas are solid but do not feel like the end destination Heldom will eventually reach, suggesting more innovation and evolution to come as the project develops.