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Artist: Ultha

Album Title: The Inextricable Wandering

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 5 October 2018

When an album is comprised of only six songs but has a running time of over 65 minutes, you can be sure that the listening experience that awaits is not going to be for those with a short attention span or those that require instant gratification. Quite the opposite in fact, and that’s exactly the case with ‘The Inextricable Wandering’, the third full-length release from German black metal band Ultha.

Hailing from Cologne (or Köln if you prefer), Ultha are a quartet comprised of bassist/vocalist Chris, guitarist/vocalist Ralph, drummer Manu and Andy, who handles the electronics. Knowing very little about this band prior to picking up the promo from within a plethora of emails sent my way, the cover artwork alone gives you a clue about what to expect from ‘The Inextricable Wandering’. The logo is typical black metal fare, almost illegible and vaguely reminiscent of the Absu logo, but the imagery deviates a little from the norm. Black and white it may be, but the artwork is far more organic-feeling than you may expect from a black metal band. It is wreathed in mystery and plenty of atmospherics, something that is clearly important to Ultha.

The music, as it turns out, shares much in common with the cover artwork. On the one hand, a large proportion of the material on ‘The Inextricable Wandering’ could be classed as typical black metal. After all, the production is relatively raw and ‘lo-fi’, there are plenty of incessant blastbeats, fast, icy staccato riffs and swift tempos. Additionally, swathes of keyboards bathe the music and the whole thing is topped off by some typically intelligible screams and rasps.

Indeed, the first couple of tracks, the epic 14-minute sprawl that’s ‘The Avarist (Eyes of a Tragedy)’ and the nearly as lengthy ‘With Knives to the Throat and Hell in your Heart’ are wonderful examples of that raw, earthy and organic style of black metal that is both grandiose and stark at the same time. The latter offers a slightly surprising amount of warmth and melody, certainly enough to pique my interest and demand further repeated spins.

However, that’s not the whole story because there is more to Ultha than just black metal. Firstly, there’s the lyrical themes that permeate this record. Nowhere to be seen are the trite diatribes to Satan or any of his underlings and minions from the Underworld. Instead, Ultha are much keener to explore more human and real-life subject matters, giving the material a grittier edge.

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Then there are the layers of experimentation that infiltrate the music on this record. The opener might, at first listen, sound like a fairly typical black metal behemoth, full of atmosphere and frenzy, understated melody and discordance. And indeed, to a certain extent this is true. However, listen again and you’ll begin to hear the plodding doom-inspired riffs, the post-metal ebb and flow, occasional ambient minimalism and the clever, story-telling changes in tempo and intensity, encompassing everything from all-out blistering attack, to a slower, more measured groove.

Not content to leave it there, Ultha decide to throw up a curveball in the form of the instrumental ‘There Is No Love, High Up In The Gallows’. The song’s title is as bleak and uncomfortable as the music itself as it turns out and I was definitely not ready for what confronted me first time around. The track is an eerie exploration of modern minimalist soundscapes. Led and created almost entirely by the synths of Andy, the sense of loneliness and sorrow is palpable, whilst all around you, the electronic sounds pulsate and envelop the listener in a thoroughly creepy and desolate environment that’s both suffocating and expansive.

After another foray into more recognisable black metal realms courtesy of ‘Cyanide Lips’, ‘We Only Speak In Darkness’ is a different beast yet again, testing boundaries and apparently revelling in the overt experimentation. The organ-like synths lay the foundations of another bleak and minimalist sonic experience. But this time, thy are joined by a metronomic drum beat, spoken-word lyrics dripping in Gothic splendour and judiciously-placed effect-laden guitar embellishments. The result is hypnotic and atmospheric, not to mention rather disconcerting as well.

Just when you think that the final track, the eighteen-minute behemoth ‘I’m Afraid To Follow You There’ is going to follow suit thanks to an extended quiet, introspective intro, in come the scything guitars as if appearing out of the cloying fog. As the intensity and power builds, you begin to fully understand why Ultha must be such a draw in the live arena. If they are able to replicate this level of intensity on stage, it would be enough to blow the audience away.

Again though, there is plenty to explore throughout this monster composition, with my favourite being the stark juxtaposition between the frenetic all-out bludgeoning that suddenly turns into a beautifully poignant and minimalist section that continues to explore the melodies introduced but almost hidden within the preceding tumult, allowing the beauty to become more exposed and work its subtle magic. Inevitably and inexorably, the relative quiet gives way again to the harsher black metal sounds but even then, the melodies are able to break through to continue this sensitive thread, weaved through the vast majority of this truly epic track.

Having never heard of Ultha prior to this release, I’m now a convert to their cause. It isn’t the kind of music you can put on for a quick fix but then it was never intended to be. The material within ‘The Inextricable Wandering’ is harsh, raw and extreme metal music that requires attention, patience and, at times, an open mind. Nevertheless, if you’re willing to put the effort in, I guarantee you’ll be rewarded because Ultha’s output is of a very high quality indeed.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsTb2KjIKJ0&w=560&h=315]

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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