When you think of German Metal you tend to think of traditional metal bands like Scorpions and Accept or the Power Metal power-houses of Helloween and Primal Fear. What doesn’t spring immediately to mind is Black Metal and although there are plenty of world class German practitioners of the dark arts out there, only bands like Dark Fortress and Endstille seem able to continually challenge the Scandinavian hegemony on a global scale.
Clocking in at an hour-plus and feature only six tracks, Ultha’s The Inextricable Wandering is an epic voyage through the idea of Black Metal itself and the album is a smorgasbord of atmosphere and brutality, blast beats and orchestration that could have sounded like a directionless mish-mash of styles thrown together without consideration. Rather, The Inextricable Wandering is an album that demands the listener actually engage with the music. From the opening doom-ladden riff of The Averist (Eyes of a Tragedy), with its understated vocal delivery, this near fifteen minute track evolves through repetitive riff to symphonic closure, encompassing more traditional black metal tropes along the way in the guise of an Atilla-style vocal delivery.
Tradition black metal styling crop up throughout the album, from the blast beat beginning of With Knives to The Throat and Hell in Your Heart to the use of rapid triplets, there is a feeling of early Wolves in the Throne Room and Drudkh across the whole record.
But, just when you started to think you’ve got a sense of what Ultha are all about they drop There Is No Love, High Up in the Gallows, an ambient keyboard piece that wouldn’t seem out of place on the Blade Runner soundtrack; whereas the rest of The Inextricable Wandering evokes the vast, cold and rural, this piece is claustrophobically urban. Although the music swells, ebbs and flows, the promise of resolution never arrives. Instead, it fades out into the approaching guitar of Cyanide Lips.
I recently wrote high praise about the new King Dude record and Ultha’s track We Only Speak in Darkness would not have sounded amiss on that album. With its slow, plodding doom, reverb-heavy, yet lighter guitar tones and haunting vocal over a choral organ, the track is held together by an immoveable riff that repeats until it’s lodged into your mind.
There is no respite at the end of the journey and Ultha unleash a momentous eighteen- minute colossus of closer, I’m Afraid to Follow You There, which develops slowly, like the best Post Metal has to offer, taking its time to drive home more enormous riffs and a maelstrom of howling wind and driving rain in the form a drum and guitar.
With The Inextricable Wandering, Ultha have created a magnificent black metal album of light and shade, atmosphere and aggression, and a record that, although substantial in its running time, is a journey that demands and rewards being heard from start to finish.