Continuing our trek towards the harsh unknown, we venture forth along a path trodden by few, at least in this band’s regard. Today we observe Russian black metal inquisitors Ulvdalir, who’s newest release …of Death Eternal marks their first major full-length since 2011.
Despite their seemingly absent nature, Ulvdalir have been churning out splits and EPs since their initial pair of albums were released in 2008. While placing them alongside Russia’s earliest heavy bands would be a disgrace to the scene’s founders, being a Russian black metal band which formed in 2001 is still somewhat notable. Hard rock/heavy metal groups date all the way back to the early 1980s within the country (or region in proper, as it was the U.S.S.R. at the time), but extreme music really only started to take shape much later on, especially in comparison to the rest of the world which wasn’t under Communist reign. One could do a whole case study on Russian culture, metal’s evolution within the region, and whether or not its population acts differently in comparison to those native to other areas, but we can at least deduce that groups to the likes of the one in question are harder to come by. In other words, for Ulvdalir’s secluded nature, they’re pretty damn good.
The journey alluded to within this article’s prelude is none other than my own. While somewhat of a metal connoisseur, enough-so that I believe my knowledge of the genre is up to par enough to contribute regularly to a dedicated blog, my untethered endeavours into this world have seemed to stray away from black metal, or at least its harshest depths. Sure, the ‘90s Scandinavian scene is a no-brainer, and who doesn’t adore Sweden’s Bathory, but I’m much more comfortable within the death, thrash, and sludge subgenres than I am within the one at hand. Luckily enough, I get a fair quantity of music to pick and choose from in my inbox, so I catered the coming month-or-so of posts to my thirst for a black metal familiarization. So far, I’ve given my opinions on (The True) Veiled’s In Blinding Presence and Perverticon’s Wounds of Divinity (I adored the former, I felt the latter to be mediocre). Let’s see how Ulvdalir’s contribution fares.
First off, Ulvdalir’s sonic affair miraculously blends a healthy mix of influences over a traditional black metal base. Whether its catchy and clean electric guitars, chant-like operatic singing, and thrashier portions which almost make you forget you’re listening to a black metal album, the record offers a wide array of tangible elements for the listener to grasp onto. A recurring qualm I have with black metal releases lies behind their tendency to fall within one specific sound, from start to finish. That was one of the main reasons why my review didn’t fall in Perverticon’s favour, and contrarily why (The True) Veiled’s did. Perhaps I’m too used to knuckle-dragging death metal, but I enjoy tangible aspects in my music of choice. Ulvdalir’s newest is full of these.
I mentioned a section earlier that incorporated a common thrash instrumentation technique. The one in question used in thrash and death metal operates via formula whereby a riff is played twice in succession, then a steady drumbeat is subsequently applied for another two (or any number, really) repetitions of the same guitar melody. Aside from a well-crafted segment of music, the listener gets to enjoy this seemingly-unbeatable technique that always gets your head bobbing. The whole thing is fairly hard to describe, and it doesn’t really help that I don’t have a specific example, but its incorporation within one of the album’s tracks is very much appreciated. “Music of Cold Spheres” opens in familiar black metal fashion, but then breaks down into this crunchy riff of repetition, of which the aforementioned technique plays out. The whole thing is splendid, really. Killer solo that follows, too.
The album kind of blends what I feel are two of the more important aspects of black metal, at least from my ideal criteria. Firstly, …of Death Eternal successfully draws listeners in with the prior-discussed tangible elements; the general rock n’ roll vibe, the interesting guitar solos, the microcosm breakdowns, the clean electric guitar inclusions, the thrashy sections, all of that. Secondly, after being pulled in with juicy segments, the listener is invited to succumb to Ulvdalir’s all-encompassing nature, through the use of back-to-back seven to eight minute long songs. Aside from the intro/outro tracks, and the shorter “Birth of the Beast,” every song on this full-length is of longer format. This time allotment allows for listeners to fall into these tracks, going along for the ride as they progress and meander through the minutes. There’s just a general balance between catchy sections and controlled openness which creates a welcoming atmosphere.
All in all, …of Death Eternal feels like a really strong black metal release. I’d probably find issue within the similar song lengths, but the tracks function so well in their ability that I don’t really see a problem. All of the included songs are diverse enough to justify each of their inclusion, but they’re still of similar vein, ultimately contributing to a work stronger than the sum of its parts.