Hällas: ‘Conundrum’ Review
Hällas are a little known band from Sweden formed in 2011. Consisting of Tommy Alexandersson (Vocals and Bass), Marcus Petersson (Guitar), Kasper Eriksson (Drums), Nicklas Malmqvist (Keys), and Alexander Moraitis (Guitar). ‘Conundrum’ is the band’s third release, and the final in a trilogy following the story of Hällas the knight.
Upon my first listen, ‘Conundrum’ felt like Yes had composed a film score for ‘Kung Fury’. The album is a full throwback to the classic era of progressive rock featuring inspirations from Gentle Giant, Yes, Rush, Genesis, Boston, and more. It really captivated my ears as something that really stands out inside of a genre that frequently repeats itself.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Making Of’ documentary that was released which shows the behinds the scenes of the recording process for the album. It’s something that I’ve not seen smaller bands take on in recent years, particularly given the tension that’s observed between the bandmates. I’d really recommend deep diving into this if you’ve got an hour to spare. After listening to the album, of course.
So, onto the music. The album sounds incredibly warm to the ear. I presume this is thanks to all of the ‘classic’ instruments that have been used. Using analogue synths, mellotrons, a Rickenbacker, and more. Even the documentary that I mentioned above was recorded in a 4:3 aspect ratio, presumable to tape for those extra aesthetic points.
‘Ascension’ is an introductory track to the album which builds up to ‘Beyond Night And Day’. The scene is firmly set right off the bat, creating an oddly nostalgic atmosphere launching us straight into a jousting match of instrumental battles behind Tommy’s lead vocals.
‘Strider’ continues us on the journey of Hällas’ quest. It’s a mellow track with an enchanting bassline. The constant plodding makes me imagine our protagonists galloping on horses through the forest, and it’s that sort of word painting that made me fall in love with this music. This track, in particular, reminds me of Rick Wakeman’s ‘Knights Of The Round Table’ – one of his more well-known solo albums after ‘Six Wives’. It has such a meaning swagger to it that runs chills through my bones without fail every time I listen to it.
‘Tear of a Traitor’ picks up the base with faster tempo in 6/8. The organ solo in this track is as if Boston wrote an Iron Maiden solo, and it’s not too over the top either. It serves the melody of the track rather than showing off explicitly technical playing which helps to make the album far more accessible for the casual listener. The track as a whole is packed full of energy, and possibly my favourite off of the album after ‘Fading Hero’.
The chorus of ‘Carry On’ is absurdly catchy with its off-beat melody. I often find myself humming it to myself without even realising. We’ve again got that Iron Maiden style bass jump, although this time it’s in the high hat – creating even more of a sense of pushing the story forward in the outro of the song.
The build at the start of ‘Blinded by the Emerald Mist’ is expertly controlled, and the payoff is wonderful. The brief instrumental break it leads to is very reminiscent of some of Camel’s best instrumentals. A further instrumental section later in the track brings back these same atmospheres to hype up the listener for what is still yet to come. The groundwork is perfectly set for the finale of Hällas’ saga, ‘Fading Hero’ with a final ‘ping’ at the end of the track.
‘Fading Hero’ starts with some darker synth sounds, closing the story of our wearied traveller. This track also contains my favourite part of the entire album, the vocoder! Everything builds to this fantastic moment of our fading hero’s holy mission. When the bass comes in to signify the start of that final build, chills run through my spine. Without fail, I’m belting out the lyrics “FADING HERO! ON A HOLY MISSION!” every time I hear the final chorus.
This album is a hard recommend from me. And if you enjoy it, do check out their prior two releases that tie this story altogether. Who is Star Rider? Who is the Astral Seer? Maybe we’ll never know.