The heavy eyelids of the densely populated European black metal massif barely appear to have batted at the sight and sound of Russian black metals insurgent, driven populace despite a solid two decades of indentation and inspired variance. Thus a new undeserved iron curtain forms atop the shoulders of many fantastic bands whose very location comes with raw, brutal, anti-human assumption. Many appear driven in defiance of the abraded and unfeeling order within the last decade, parading down the isthmus or across the sea without Petrograd as identity but rather Finnish or Germanic affect defining their reach across the border. St. Petersburg, Russia duo Ulvdalir have been an active presence and an outlier leaning towards the German black metal epicenter for roughly a decade now, though they formed in 2001. After an eight year span between, they return with a sound differentiated for the sake of the leaps and bounds seen in their other project Khashm. ‘…Of Death Eternal’ not only rises to those new standards but shrugs off some of the black n’ roll affect they’d collected up until 2011 or so in favor of a more serious pull upon their atmospheric and semi-melodic roots.
Though I’d suggest they’d had their eyes on the truly self-sustaining German black metal scene from the start much of Ulvdalir‘s sound developed beyond simpler second wave Norwegian dramatics towards longer-winded compositions taking cues from Scandinavia and abroad that’d recall Watain, Inquisition, and Ondskapt along the way. Their second ‘Soul Void’ (2008) and third ‘Cold Breath of Apocalypse’ (2011) albums were notable for thier fluid riff structures, atmospheric cleanliness and often came with pronounced melodic leanings; This is a fair description of the duos fourth full-length but, they haven’t necessarily picked up right where they left off. Khashm‘s ‘Asmodeus Rising’ in 2017 was a triumph for the musicians involved and in defining that project it’d become necessary to rethink Ulvdalir‘s ‘next level’ release in the downtime. The remaining signature of past releases retains that semi-melodic nature that I feel drives the best of modern Finnish black metal, noted Polish groups, and more importantly All My Sins whose mastermind V. (Phaespheros) guests on this record as well as providing the mix/master from this Wormhole Studios. Though I wouldn’t suggest ‘…Of Death Eternal’ is a melodic black metal record the bands sound has lost its last bit of ugliness in favor of smoothed edges without becoming a beautiful or saccharine experience. The modernized flagellae of Swedish black orthodoxy still flick tendrils of influence throughout the release, as a result it is a bit ‘vanilla’ and rote at times.
“Awakening” is a fine introduction to Ulvdalir as lucid melodic guitar work and Inquisition-esque break in the middle suggest a dynamic and exciting record can be expected and Ulvdalir deliver upon this promise (about half of the time) beyond that point with a few surprising bursts of inspiration. I do think the ghost of ‘Transylvanian Hunger’ still haunts these Russians ‘downtime’ guitar work but their compositions are not amateurish or robotic; Side B intensifies with a fantastic showing between “Birth of the Beast” and the show-stopping ripper “Music of Cold Spheres” that breaks into an effective speed metal moment in the first half. The duo really shine on the tracks that reach the 7-8 minute mark as their compositions resolve in meaningful ways when given enough space to breathe, in this sense the Arckanum-esque “Swords of Belial” is a small refinement of the main thrust of ‘Cold Breath of Apocalypse’ which would hit upon catchy moments but not always form complete musical statements. Though these moments aren’t always distinct or mind-shattering, they are quite effective as a next step in Ulvdalir‘s discography.
It is a step forward rather than a paradigm shift and as such I can see why many folks met this record without distinction. Black metal influenced by modern refinements of black metal aiming for clean fidelity, moderately accessible structures, and refined composition rather than rapacious speed or heaviness can easily express as a middling experience. I was able to see the forest for the trees after revisiting past Ulvdalir fare and seeing a meaningful progression and recognizing ambition beyond townie scene-posturing. I would count this among the best of January this year though I wouldn’t recommend it as a highlight for the black metal outsider looking in, rather it would serve best the type of folk who seek the cumulative touch and balanced meter of modern black metal but still want it delivered with a big riff here and there. Moderately high recommendation. For preview I’d suggest “Music of Cold Spheres” for its quick hook and “Awakening” as direct window into Ulvdalir‘s enduring strengths.
Embraced by the flame. 4.0/5.0
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