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What does it take in a person to write an exceptional piece of music? It's a question I think every reviewer must ponder at least once, especially when one looks at the diversity of musicians that can create something captivating. Rich or poor, smart or dumb, formally educated in music or not, anyone can write something of interest that can draw people into listening to it for years. One would think a worldly, experienced mind is a overlying trait of great musicians; a good album necessitates someone who has seen the wonders of the world and can express them in sonic form. Then, albums like this one pop up. Some musicians go their entire lives without even coming close to being capable of incorporating Ultima Thulee's sort of atmospheric presence-- how could Vindsval, at the age of 16, write something sounding so complete, otherworldly and fascinating as this? I couldn't even think about anything other than smoking grass and getting ass when I was 16! I still can't think about anything else now! Fuck!
Music is never born in a vacuum, but it could stand to reason that one-man bands are much more capable of pursuing a vision independent of the ebb and flow of trends influencing the given musical style at the time. Black metal easily falls victim to having too many cooks in the kitchen. Blut Aus Nord never suffers musically as a result of personal egos; the vocals and drums are mere background echoes on this album, with no intrinsic desire to stand out on their own, instead providing the textural base for the music as opposed to grounding the song rhythmically. There is no order in the pacing of this album; it is chaotic, and composed specifically to be as such. Amidst the chaotic noise and inversion of musical norms, though, there needs to be a central point; a structure to the chaos, a method to the madness. Through the swirling layers of hale, sonic winds, Blut Aus Nord's underlying purpose becomes clear: to give you the chills; to create a sensation of cold. "Cold" in this case, is not limited to the feeling of the simple sting of wind chill or a drop in temperature, though. There is emptiness, a complete lack of motion in the surrounding world, a certain solitude emphasized in the scratchy, hale guitars. Even though the entirety of the album is drenched in a reverberating echo, the guitar tone still feels very thin, resonating more through its slow, directionless drift with a gradual fluency in movement that defines the nature of cold itself. This doesn't just sound like a blizzard; it IS a blizzard in its essence. All it takes is an eerie little melody at the beginning of "The Son of Hoarfrost" to instantly hook you in; you will feel a sense of being surrounded while simultaneously coming to the realization that you are very, very alone, engulfed by a maelstrom of snow. Vindsval has said himself that the music of Blut aus Nord is meant to be a solitary experience- the kind of thing you put in your CD player, turn off all the lights and listen to just when the shrooms start to kick in. I've attempted to show this album to people in semi-social settings before, and it's just met with confusion and disinterest. You can't really expect to appreciate this album in the same way when there's tendency for personal distraction; it doesn't make Blut Aus Nord any worse at what they do, Vindsval just nailed what he meant to accomplish so thoroughly that the environment required to absorb Ultima Thulee is very specific. The care and simplicity in this album is meant to be appreciated in every note, and missing any piece of the puzzle ruins how necessary and complete everything feels.
But how does an album sound "complete", you might be asking? In Ultima Thulee's case, it mostly refers to the perfection in balance between the guitars and keyboards. Blut Aus Nord's ambiance is equivalent in quality to that of the riffs (they're perhaps the only black metal band other than Burzum who has achieved such a feat), sounding completely disparate in texture at first but coming together and creating this hale snowstorm of black metal. The entirety of this album isn't just a distorted assault on the senses, though. The keyboards are given plenty of room to breathe, sometimes for entire tracks- "Rigsthula" gives the same sublime, delicate chill that Burzum accomplished with "Tomhet" (with Vinny's own little extra-dimensional twinkle lining the surface). Indeed, one can see a clear connection to something like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss in this album, but never does Vindsval linger upon the same riff for quite as long of a duration as Varg. The music is constantly moving, churning, changing, pausing for moments to take in the scenery but trudging through the arctic winds; to stop would be death, to continue is toil. The riffing is varied, but the lack of more staccato definition within the riffs keeps them purely within the textural realm, and the music is all the better for it. There's not quite as much attention to detail as there came to be on later albums within individual riffs, and this is perhaps the one definitive trait that relegates Ultima Thulee to the role of an immature debut. Though the melodies certainly have a sense of personality and attempt to individuate themselves from other black metal, this album still adheres more to black metal's conventions more than any other Blut aus Nord release manages to. It's weird, but not THAT weird. The exploration of dissonance and linearity that is so thorough in Vindsval's music is present, but it's buried within the movements of ice-tipped riffing in pursuit of something a little more delicate and sublime.
Therein lies the beauty of Ultima Thulee. It wanders, but only follows the direction of the wind. It searches, but knows not what it will find--hell, it probably doesn't even think anything will be found in the first place. Vindsval, as a mere bright-eyed young lad, may have simply wanted to write a great atmospheric black metal album, but he ended up writing one of the French black metal scene's greatest classics simply because of the honesty and innocence in his searching for something more. That's really what black metal is supposed to be about, isn't it? Breaking boundaries, treating conventions like playthings, accepting (perhaps even actively affirming) that there should be more to this existence than we have and therefore trying to create something that liberates us by exploring new musical territory. Burzum, Darkthrone and Mayhem really don't sound that much like one another when you stack them up side-by-side, but together they form an established ideal for a musical genre. Blut Aus Nord's position in that black metal ideal is perhaps much smaller, but no less significant. The solitary wanderer who looks to the stars for meaning has never been a stranger to black metal, and Ultima Thulee captures that feeling of cold, beautiful emptiness we get when we first contemplate the stars better than any album I've ever heard. It may not have been the first album to attempt to grasp such a concept, but never before and never since has it felt so genuine.
Blut aus Nord don’t need any introductions, since they’ve been one of the most qualitative bands through all these years. They have constantly evolved and have always been pioneers as they integrated new elements to their music. This time I will try to capture the greatness of their first full-length work, “Ultima Thulée”, where they first showed us that we’re dealing with a very special form of expression in the field of black metal.
To be honest, in the beginning I really struggled to fully perceive what I was listening to. But as the listens were progressing, I realized that this record was actually a journey towards Thule. It consists of 8 tracks and, except for an interlude, all of them are relatively long but this is exactly the purpose. The atmosphere created through the compositions and the properly chosen production is really unique. Of course the perfect combination of guitars and keyboards contribute majorly to this phenomenon. Guitars have some variety, but most of the time are following a relatively slow pattern, except for some fast outbreaks that give a more intense edge where needed. As expected, drumming follows practically the same tempo, but also offers a decent performance with some very nice fillings and changes.
To be honest though, the element that amazed me the most was the extraordinary use of the keyboards. They boosted the quality of the record to really elusive levels with all these eerie melodies that can make your mind travel to distant and unknown lands. Sometimes serving as intros and others accompanying the guitar work, they were always perfect. Furthermore, it would be an omission not to refer to some acoustic passages and the psalms that can be heard in the mysterious “My Prayer Beyond Ginnungagap“. Speaking of that track, it was the only one that had some lyrics available and they seemed very deep and philosophical, so it’s really a shame that lyrics for the other songs are not known.
Blut Aus Nord followed some groundbreaking paths in their debut album and really made a difference in the genre of atmospheric black metal. Of course this was only the beginning since they offered us more great albums in the future. But still this one remains between their top works and made me see black metal from a very different perspective. Don’t waste any time, Thule awaits you.
Originally written for: The Lair of Storfeth
Blut aus Nord is a French black metal band that hails from Normandy, a region with close historical ties to the Scandinavians of the Viking age. Perhaps, it is because of this that the band's debut album, Ultima Thulée, sounds much more related to the output of the Norwegian scene as opposed to the band's own countrymen, such as Les Légions Noires. Released through Impure Creations Records, in January 1995, this L.P. represents the high point of Vindsval's songwriting.
There is a very otherworldly quality to the music presented here. On the most basic level, this is not all that dissimilar to some of the material released by the likes of Burzum and Immortal, a couple years earlier. However, this may be even more atmospheric than the former and a little darker than the latter. The atmosphere of this record is strengthened by an extensive utilization of eerie synth melodies, though the keyboards do manage to fit in a bit more naturally than on Satyricon's Dark Medieval Times. It almost sounds influenced by the synth instrumentals found on the early Burzum and Isengard records, especially on "Rigsthula". Other than a few certain points, the music is not as repetitive as one might expect, with a lot of variation within each track. The various sections of the songs work well to take the listener on an epic journey, with a mixture of mid-paced and faster riffs, also joined together with more ethereal passages that sound like something from the first Katatonia album. Such can be more clearly heard in songs such as "The Plain of Ida" and "The Last Journey of Ringhorn". Certain ideas take quite a while to conclude, but this only works to increase the odd, dream-like quality of the album. Also nice is how there are occasions where the lead guitar is used to add depth to the music, making a wise choice to not simply add more keyboards in a situation where the guitar is better suited for the job. The vocals are rather impassioned and consist mostly of tormented screams, though maybe a bit generic considering the time period. Either way, it works very well to add to the sombre feeling of the album. There are the occasional background chants, and the track "My Prayer Beyond Ginnungagap" consists of almost nothing but clean chanting, serving as an interlude of sorts. Of course, with the cultural ties to the north, it is no surprise that all of the lyrics deal with Norse mythology.
The production is very similar to that of Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Det Som Engang Var, to an extent. One would think that this could have been recorded at Grieghallen, almost. The icy guitar tone is very thick and full, yet somehow sounds hollow at the same time. Thankfully, this is the most dominant element, with the rest kind of buried deep within the snow and ice. It is a good thing that the percussion is not any higher in the mix, as it sounds like the work of a drum machine; therefore, it is all the better to remain less noticeable in order to not ruin the atmosphere. The overall production is probably considered raw by today's standards, but it actually sounds fairly well-done and far above demo-quality.
Ultima Thulée is like a lost Norwegian black metal album, in many ways. Despite being a French band with a badly translated German name, Blut aus Nord fit in well with their neighbors to the north, at least with the likes of Burzum, Immortal and Enslaved. If you are a fan of the early works from those bands, you are well advised to check this out. This is a very solid album and much better than anything they've released since hopping on modern trends.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/)
Look at either versions of this album's artwork. The original, a pencil drawing of a grim, wintery landscape. The re-release, a surrealistic, colored portrait of a grim, wintery landscape. That is what Blut aus Nord is trying to convey with their debut album, Ultima Thulee, and they do it much better than many of their contemporaries. Ultima Thulee was actually my first exposure to Blut aus Nord and remains my favorite of the whole legacy.
If you've read my review of Paysage d'Hiver's Steineiche, you'll recall me stating that that particular album/demo's take on the winter theme will never find an equal. I guess I kinda have to eat those words as this album will get a slightly higher score than Steineiche, but in my defense it's worth noting that this album has more of a heathen flavor to its approach with titles including Hlidskjalf, Ginnungagap, and Bifrost. Therefore, it would be fair to say that Vindsval intended the theme here to be more about heathenism and such (which he would continue with on Blut aus Nord's sophomore album) than just winter in general.
Songs like "The Son of Hoarfrost" and "From Hlidskjalf" are the best examples of the typical tones set forth on this album: rawer sounding black metal with keyboards to generate the cold feeling and plenty of variation to keep the listener hooked. Variations come in the forms of both music played, which Vindsval has written exceptionally well; and tempo, an early example being the faster sections of "The Son of Hoarfrost", an otherwise slow to mid-paced song.
Another nice treat for many of the songs here is the period of quieter ambiance featuring keyboards and/or cleaner sounding guitar in the middle of the song. These sections provide excellent amounts of beauty to this wintry soundscape. On some songs, however, Vindsval made some welcome variation on this. "Till I Perceive Bifrost" doesn't feature one of those breaks at all (unless you count the intro), "On the Way to Vigrid" features clean guitar played alongside the rawer sounding guitar, and "The Plain of Ida" is centered around being more atmospheric with the keyboards in the simple but bleak and beautiful sounding intro and later the series of dark sounding pulses that lead to the eerie sound of the guitar fading back in.
Vindsval does the vocals well here too. The main style he uses is a sort of black metal screech; but amid the black metal blizzard here, it reminds me of howling wind. He does use some cleaner sounding vocals on "The Son of Hoarfrost" during the ambient break as well. I'd love to see some lyrics to go along this; but as most of you know, Blut aus Nord just don't do that.
The flow of the songs on Ultima Thulee is arranged with such skill that it feels like some epic wintry journey. "The Son of Hoarfrost" feels like a journey across the rocky mountainside during a blizzard. Then across the calmer, snow covered "Plain of Ida" to ascend a great mountain at "From Hlidskjalf". A pause at the top of the mountain while the choral howling of "My Prayer Beyond Ginnungagap" plays through is followed by a descent to the beat of "Till I Perceive Bifrost" and it's strangely distinct sound of whale calls (wtf?). Then, we go "On the Way to Vigrid", stop for a pretty ambient break with "Rigsthula", and make our final approach to our wintry grave in "The Last Journey of Ringhorn"'s beautiful sounding finish.
The scenic bleakness and majesty of Ultima Thulee is what makes listening to winter themed atmospheric black metal so enthralling. Now that I'm in this icy prison, I don't think I want to find a way out.
To me, Blut Aus Nord is probably the best black metal band that there is out there, even if they aren't the "true" type.
It's shocking to think that this is BAN's debut album. The composition of the songs is simply incredible, as is the musicianship. There is a massive influence from Immortal and Burzum in the guitar layering, and definitely Bathory with the sheer epic scale of everything. BAN mixes these together and takes it a step or two further. The songs are quite long, with many parts, yet flow smoothly. They suceed in creating an ambiance of cold and unforgiving vistas, not unlike their Norwegian peers.
The guitar work is great. Slightly muddy, with a warm tone not unlike Immortal's Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, it weaves quite a simple, atmospheric layer with a few flourishes of melody liberally sprinkled throughout. The bass is there. Nothing special. This album, I believe, features real drums...they certainly sound more real than the programmed stuff that BAN would use later on.
The vocals are a tortured, incomprehensible rasp, and sometimes a clean chant. "My Prayer Beyond Gigungagap" is nothing but chanting, and quite enjoyable. Very epic! I'm not a huge fan of the harsher vocals, although they are arguably necessary. This album could have been instrumental, and it still would have been excellent.
Overall, this is not the most original BAN album. As much as it is enjoyable, it seems almost unoriginal by BAN standards, yet still blows away easily 95% of the black metal out there. And it is, however, an excellent debut, and their most "orthodox black metal."
Blut Aus Nord is a mixed bag for me, which is truly a shame since the albums considered “good” are spectacular. This debut has an atmosphere still untouched by many black metal bands and this band itself, who figured experimenting was worth more of their time than pursuing this essence. Ultima Thulée stands on its own, like a mountain in the Alps wounded from battling the elements for millions of years; solitude, diminishing grace, retired, empty yet passively vigilant are the feelings invoked. The guitar tone is menacingly heavy, sinister, and decimates anything that treks through its territory unannounced. The keys bring about an ominous, foreboding atmosphere echoing high and far in the range of mountains – forgotten by the world and tempted by prevailing years of wind and snow. This is black metal in its most pure, endured form – untainted by anything before and, to an extent, after.
Production for this gem leans towards raw, but doesn’t go further than how the guitars are distorted to a point where they aren’t effervescent, but incredibly bleak; castled in a cold, dark frame. The music, like the fantastic album art, draws upon mere black and white to depict the land that you’ve ventured upon. The first track that protrudes all of these signs comes from “From Hlidskjalf,” a track that bears that scars of war. It’s an incredibly blared song that entails the vicious, tortured screams of Vindsval; the winds keep up their rampant storm, never giving up the colossal tone of the album. The song eventually dives into a captivating ambient / riff break, where we witness (in ethereal subsistence) the keys painting a dreamworld. In no way are these keys cheesy or butchered like with many other bands; here they are beautiful, haunting, and completely coat the melodic, wretched outerworld that we perceive.
Not one song on this album takes away the spirit that builds and builds with each passing second. Its one long expedition with great variation and attention to detail naturally brought out, not embedded synthetically. It’s a unique experience that personally holds dear to the listener; while you're listening, it doesn’t even come off as something that was recorded in a studio with electricity, beer, and some computers. No, everything flows at a steady pace without forcing anything upon the listener. Its almost sad to hear something so gorgeous buried so far from civilization; sanctioned from the eyes and ears of those who’d rather go by their day listening to music so artificial and processed. The cold, clean intro from “Till I Perceive Bifrost,” the chilling prayers heard throughout the Alps in “My Prayer Beyond Ginnungagap,” the ambient aurora “Rigsthula”… all bear witness to the powers held by the mountains – a part of one whole entity, Earth, withstanding the creation of life and likely to continue withstanding until an age when all life ceases and this world becomes a fragment in space and time. This album brings out this perception and completely distances the listener from everything the world, as perceived by man, is known for.
The ending to this crossing concludes with my favorite track of the whole album, “The Last Journey Of Ringhorn.” It’s a forsaken song that encompasses skullcrushing riffs, agonizing screams, and a deeper meaning hidden within. Bass on the album is deep and gloomy, but here it's extensive and vibrates in desperation. Vindsval himself gives a very emotional performance with subtle, clean crooning in the background, and drumming is precise and catchy as it hurdles through the snowstorm. Blast beats and the like are kindled like a burning flame in small doses through the album, but it’s the production allows it to remain on top of its game. The outro lays down the real wrath as the riffs rush down the peaks like an avalanche, overwhelming everything caught in the pass without mercy.
This is black metal at its very best: natural, convincing, frosty, melodically forgiving, and emotional enchanting. It’s an experience that the band still hasn’t replicated with any of their works (yes, that includes the Memoria Vetusta albums). It was my introduction to the band and I recommend it to any fan of black metal.
Ultima Thulée was the first of a long list of full-lengths by the now legendary Blut Aus Nord. It's grown to be a particular favourite of mine over recent months. I initially never took much interest in it, and considered it subpar in comparison to Memoria Vetusta I - Fathers Of The Icy Age, the full-length which followed it. After several listens I grew to truly love Ultima Thulée. It's unique atmosphere and fantastic electronic moments serve this up as a real treat.
Blut Aus Nord have hit hard times recently. The fans were unhappy with MORT and perhaps justifiably so. Considering the material on Ultima Thulée and the following full-length, fans had every right to be aggrieved. MORT lacked the atmosphere of Ultima Thulée and the melodic prowess of Memoria Vetusta I - Fathers Of The Icy Age. It was like watching your favourite film with all the good bits cut out. Disappointing. The early era of Blut Aus Nord represents the time when the material flowed like a fine wine. It was sweet and delighted the senses beyond all belief. The way in which the keyboards created a dark ambience and how the guitars followed up with a vast selection of tremendous melodic riffs was breathtaking. The Last Journey Of Ringhorn is a particular case for this.
The way the music flows towards a dark outcome. Depicting a variety of negative emotions and mysticism. The music is as much of an enigma as the band members are. It's incomparable to anything else. The major positive is how the keyboards are put to use. The way they create that divine sound that acts as the blanket over the other instruments is amazing. The emotion they draw from the listener is incredibly. A feeling of isolation, desolation and solitary confinement. The music zaps the listener and drains them to a point where they're simply overwhelmed. This is where the vocals come in with rasping growls to finish you off. Much of the music reminds me of a funeral procession, especially the keys on The Plain Of Ida. Blut Aus Nord's greatest era.
What an album. This puts 99% of black metal to shame. It's too bad Blut Aus Nord didn't stick with this style of black metal, even though I love all their other stuff. This album is just the best one though. What is amazing is that Vindsval did everything on Ultima Thulée and recorded it all as well. It definitely sounds as if there are more than one person playing. Ultima Thulée reminds me of Filosofem, in the way the keyboards are used along with the brilliant riffs and the cold shrieks of agony. The Son Of Hoarfrost is the first track on the album, and has some very great keyboards and riffs that remind you why black metal is so great. The Plain Of Ida is the second song on here and definitely my favorite. It has an eerie repeating keyboard part that repeats for 2 minutes before one of the greatest black metal riffs comes in. It's very beautiful, since the keyboard is kept in with the guitar and repeats perfectly with it. Vindsval's vocals are razor-sharp and somehow fit into the whole equation. From Hlidskjalf is also an amazing song. It begins with a Vindsval shriek and some heavy guitar. The keyboards in this song are also excellent and perfect. Near the end of the song, it fades out. But all of a sudden when you think it's over, it slowly fades back in before ending. I've always liked that for some reason. My Prayer Beyond Ginnungagap is simply beautiful. It must be heard to understand. I've always wondered how Vindsval made that song. The rest of the songs are all brilliant as well. Till I Perceive Bifrost and On The Way To Vigrid are two more incredible songs with some excellent guitars and vocals. Rigsthula is a keyboard only track, and it leads to The Last Journey Of Ringhorn, which is an excellent closer with some great guitar work. The whole CD screams out perfection and originality.
I was first alerted to Blut Aus Nord with the monumental release of “The Work That Transforms God” sometime last year. While that release is excellent in its own unique way nothing could have prepared me for what dwelled further back. Plain and simple this is the most inspired release that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. This album reaches me deeper than any other music has done.
I bought the candlelight reissue of this album about a month ago and from the first listen I thought this was a fairly decent release, nothing special but the more and more I have listened to it the more and more it has grown on me.
The cover art is a drawing of a snow mountain while the booklet only contains drawings of more snow covered mountains. This fits the atmosphere of the album perfectly.
This release is dark yet extremely beautiful and epic at the same time. This album cannot be described as a full black metal album but more of a hybrid of black metal and dark ambient with a touch of industrial. The songwriting is phenomenal. The music just flows together beautifully with haunting keyboard passages coming and going with perfection..
The music is the rawest production that BAN has done. However it is not raw in the sense of waves of static that black metal is notorious for but just raw in a muddy sense as if the music is washing past your ears in a calm wind during the ambient passages or a full grown Blizzard during some of the more aggressive songs. The blizzard technique is not too dissimilar to Immortal’s “Battles in the North” but contains a much darker and isolated feel to it.
The keyboards are used to great effect here and do not sound at all cheesy but add to this eerie feeling of being isolated. Echoing effects are added onto the keyboards to hold onto that note and create that haunting effect. There are many keyboard passages here but unlike countless black metal bands that fail to accomplish anything with it except for filler BAN manage to greatly strengthen the atmosphere and create enough variation so the album sounds fresh from start to finish and it just leaves you craving for more. The vocals on this album are horribly pained wails that blend in with the music perfectly but at the same time not sounding abrasive.
There are always some background guitar riffs (except during the ambient passages) going on that create the wind or blizzard effect making it difficult to discern. The rest of the instruments seem to fall into this sea of riffage for the most part. Every now and then the guitars become slightly catchy creating more discernable riffs above the blizzard. At other times the guitars play very mournful riffs. All this changing in the style of riffing just toys with the listener while at the same time not making them feel as if they are detached from the music but just flows right along with the journey. This journey does not seem to have a clear path or a beginning or end but is just some isolated wandering through an endless snowy mountain range.
Upon finishing this album, the only logical thing to do is to replay it. Never before have I ever felt such an urge to do so. This album should be purchased by any fans of dark ambient or black metal. Heck I cannot see how anyone should not purchase this work of art.
Standout tracks, From Hlidskjalf, The Last Journey of Ringhorn