Uthullun – Dirges for the Void

Band: Uthullun
Title: Dirges for the Void
Label: Wolves of Hades Records
Release Date: 13 November 2020
Country: USA
Format Reviewed: High-Quality Digital Recording

Last year the Dutch label Wolves of Hades Records came to my attention when they released what I instantly knew would be one of my albums of the year (the difficult to type “Ω – V” by the mysterious Ainsoph). Since then the label has been on my radar (and I’ve been following them on bandcamp) and with the recent release of “Dirges for the Void” by US Black Metal band Uthullun, my ears have really pricked up again.

The identity of the band is mysterious. When I reviewed the Ainsoph album someone at the label reached out and said that the band included various people closely connected to the label and that there were clues to reveal who the members were, which I thought was pretty cryptically cool. Maybe all I have to do is just ask someone, but from various internet searches I’ve got no further than the label’s bandcamp comment that Uthullun is an “enigmatic ensemble”. No matter, there’s something to be said for mystery and the themes of sorrow, discordance, harmony and ecstasy that the band explore on this record pack a deep emotional resonance, that hit me right away.

From the opening track “Sunless”, a track of fast and raging Black Metal, led by a dissonant seesaw guitar line, the feeling of anxiety is palpable. Often I find the typical distant screams so familiar in the genre unappealing, but shrieking vocals here seem totally appropriate to the mood. Already midway through the opening track, the band signals their versatility and perhaps some jazz influences as they change pace for a few bars and there’s some great interplay between the bass and drums. The final screams of “I AM SUNLESS” signpost exactly how the rest of this album is going to feel.

The jazzy elements are again on show on “Silence”, where an intense and propulsive drum and guitar maelstrom gives way midway through to a section where the band again shows how they can play with finesse as well as intensity. On “Penitence” meanwhile with its dark, brooding atmosphere, the tempo is taken down a little from the start and there’s great interplay between the cool high hat flourishes of the drums, the dissonant guitar lines, and fluid bass.

In fact I could highlight the individual playing and interplay on pretty much any track of the album. Whether the band is tearing away with raging furry, or taking a more brooding and contemplative tone the musicianship is tremendous and you can always focus your ear on interesting bass lines or drum pattern, while the guitars create this hypnotic, bad-dream dissonance and the howling vocals cement the sense of worry and bleakness. Even my least favourite track “Ecstasies”, with its 7/8 time signature and strange feel (I think the drums are playing 5/4 – 2/4… maybe) is still interesting despite its unappealing chorus.

After this minor slump in the middle the final three tracks “Pyre”, “Returning Home” and “Down The Rivers of Spilled Blood” are all top drawer. The first takes the speed way down with slow crashing guitars and sparse, mournful pianos setting the mood before the track progresses through various stages leading through a dark melancholic journey; the second last track is no less dark than the rest of the album but particularly catchy with it (and including some geat, occasional rapid double bass pedal); the final track meanwhile flows mid-way into a slow and eerie bass-driven, ghost waltz. There’s some cool layering towards the end, with acoustic guitars coming in and then this eerie echoing piano line to finish the track and the album.

This music transports me somewhere bleak and fascinating and emotionally resonant. It really connects. Though the abrasiveness I expect of Black Metal is here, this never overpowers the mood and the emotional impact, and it definitely helps that the band play so well (without it ever feeling like they’re showing off their chops just for the sake of it). Dark, mournful, powerful and another win from Wolves of Hades Records. I think it’s time for me to take a closer look at the rest of this label’s catalogue as there seems to be a musical world here that I totally connect with. 9/10 Tom Boatman

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9/10 : Epic Storm!
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