Label: Century Media
Genre: Black Metal/Extreme Metal
Producer: Andy Rosczyk
One of the most welcome changes within extreme music over the last few years is how many bands are casting aside the tired old notions of what constitutes as ‘heavy’. We are seeing more and more artists carving out their own niches and sounds which make them almost undefinable in terms of genre. Ultha are yet another example of a band who are creating the music they want to make rather than trying to fit themselves into any particular box. Described by vocalist Ralph Schmidt as a concept record about fear, album number three, ‘The Inextricable Wandering’ is one that needs to be heard through headphones late at night in a dark room allowing yourself to be swallowed up into the void it creates.
On the whole this record does a good job in making sure that void is kept interesting and engaging. Albums which are this long and oppressive can sometimes really drag, however the range of influences and styles on this record go a long way to keeping it fresh and interesting for the most part. There are certainly lulls and moments where Ultha lose you but these are in the opening couple of tracks strangely. ‘The Avarist’ and ‘With Knives To The Throat and Hell in Your Heart’ both clock in at over ten minutes and definitely feel their length, being the most straightforward and one dimensional on the record with typical tremolo riffing and barrages of blast beats. There is a gradual build and release with these tracks, however they take an awfully long time to get there and the pay off isn’t really worth it. This isn’t helped by the production, which is without doubt the most disappointing aspect of the album. Extreme music – and especially black metal – often treads the line between creating a sound which is suffocating and just plain bad. Unfortunately here Ultha fall just on the wrong side of that line; with a noticeably muddy low end which smothers some of the life out of the songs rather than the listener. In particular this takes a lot of the power out of the vocals. Being so low in the mix, the higher register notes especially sound very feeble, drastically reducing their impact. By no means does this ruin the record, however it does mean that it is difficult to get completely lost in as one would want from such albums.
With instrumental track, ‘There Is No Love, High Up in the Gallows’, Ultha give themselves much more freedom to create something completely different. Nightmarish synths drone on, almost acting as an interlude, creating a far more cinematic soundscape not completely unlike Sunn O))). ‘Cyanide Lips’ oozes atmosphere and dread; evoking that feeling of being stalked through a dark forest which is often found on those classic Scandinavian black metal records. Far and away the stand out moment on the record comes with ‘We Only Speak in Darkness’. Here Ultha manage to nail the sound and feeling of pitch black darkness they have been trying to capture throughout the entire record. This is a song which sounds closer to something you might expect from Type O Negative. An organ passage provides the backbone and driving force to the song whilst Schmidt utilises a deep and sultry growl with some passages of spoken word vocals which gives the track a completely different character to everything else on the album.
‘The Inextricable Wandering’ is a record which gets better the more it’s heard, however repeat listens also highlight just how much is lost through the sub-par production. If you can get past that and have the time to invest, there is a pretty decent album in here. Although it might not quite hit all its marks, there are moments where Ultha offer something really unique and captivating. If you are a fan of atmospheric extreme music, you will find that once you’ve cracked the hard outer shell of the record, it’s possible lose yourself within the desolate plain it creates.
Recommended Tracks: ‘We Only Speak In Darkness’