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Utumno are quite the oddball death metal band to say the very least. Hailing from the land of death metal, Sweden, you would expect for them to at least sound somewhat similar to the majority of the punk-driven bands there, but they don't. Not one damn bit. This band is more likely to be compared to groups like Ripping Corpse, Sepultura, Revenant and Morbid Angel than they are Grave or Entombed. It's a shame that these guys never got anywhere past this six-track debut record, "Across the Horizon," because the amount of promise and talent that is found here is remarkable and likely could have pushed them to relative success in Sweden's death metal scene.
With only six songs, Utumno does a fantastic job of mixing in so many different sounds that the shortness of the album becomes completely irrelevant. The opening track "The Light of Day" features some decent thrashy riffs that eventually turn into sludgy powerchords that are later accompanied by a grim narration and sinister melody, before turning into a riff-fest that encompasses early-Sepultura-like thrash riffs, insane bass lines and midpaced riffs that are damn-near as catchy as those produced by bands like Terrorizer and Bolt Thrower. "I Cross the Horizons" is one of the more "weird" tracks thanks to its eclectic mix of techy riffs and melodies, very similar to death/thrash legends like Ripping Corpse and Revenant. And "In Misery I Dwell" and "Saviour Reborn" are both death metal tunes of the highest caliber, as Stalhammar's vocals slay (His vocals sound a lot like a less gruff Max Cavalera), and the violent riffage crushes.
Had the last two tracks "Sunrise" and "Emotions Run Cold" been as stellar as the four preceding tracks, then "Across the Horizon" would have undoubtedly been a pinnacle in the Swedish death metal scene. With so many bands trying to catch up to the giants in Dismember, Entombed, Unleashed, etc, Utumno was perfecting their craft of thrashy, yet atmospheric death metal that spanned the metal spectrum without sounding like a clusterfuck of influences. Had the band moved on to create a sophomore album, their ascension in the metal world would have been inevitable, and what a wonderful world that would be.
"The Light of Day"
"I Cross the Horizon"
"In Misery I Dwell"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
Although the band took the name from Tolkien's books, I can assure you they haven't got anything in common with the symphonic black metal a'la Summoning. It's totally the opposite! This mini album from the Swedish Utumno is a real killer and surely belongs to the best death metal stuffs recorded in Sweden at the time of early 90's. “Across the Horizon”, surprisingly (he he) recorded at famous Sunlight, contains six tracks – two of which are new versions of songs from old EP from 1991. There’s also a song called “The Light of Day”, which was also planned for the debut EP, but didn’t make it in the end. So, we have two old and well known tracks and four brand new ones. I must be honest and say that I've been trying to get this CD for years, but it's so rare that I couldn't make it (or afford it). So I've been just listening to it on tape, as someone recorded it for me. Finally in 2010 this wonderful label called THE CRYPT Productions released Utumno on VINYL (!!!), adding "The Light of Day" EP as a bonus. Shit! Already looking at the impressive front cover by Mr. Wahlin is something astonishing - especially in such a big format as 12"LP. Ha, this record includes also a giant poster of the same picture. Also to read a history of Utumno written by the vocalist, Mr. Stahlhammar, is awesome. Definitely this is another great LP in the collection of mine.
Musically it just couldn't disappoint any fan of Swedish old school. Comparing "Across the Horizon" with "The Light of Day" EP I can say that the sound has changed a bit... Utumno has tuned down their guitars a bit I think, so the sound is definitely heavier. Also the production by Mr. Skogsberg is fabulous… So what if it's so typical for his studio and so many other Swedish death metal bands? Truth is I love this sound and “Across the Horizon” sounds also wonderful.
Right from the first sounds of the opening song “The Light of Day” I feel like nothing else really matters but good Swedish death metal. This is very classic track, more in the atmospheric style rather than the Nihilist-esque viciousness. Of course Utumno can be aggressive as hell when needed; they just have this ability to shuffle it with plenty of melodic, moody parts. That opening track is a fine example for it as it has some very headbanger’s friendly parts, quite fast and crushing, while it remains melodic all the way through, even has very catchy chorus. I can easily compare it to such Afflicted and their “Ivory Towers” anthem for instance. Both are great songs.
“I Cross the Horizon” is pretty much similar, again I can compare it to Afflicted or Gorement, even Entombed from their "Clandestine" LP… This track also has some splendid, more aggressive parts and I think this song is even more straight forward that the one before. After that there are two tracks from the old EP. I love “In Misery I Dwell” especially; it’s fantastic track, very energetic with blast beats in one fragment (!!!) and Jonas Stahlhammer’s vocals are again harsh and good as ever. “Sunrise”, another new track, is again very typical; but some of its parts are really complicated. Johan Halberg plays some truly incredible parts on his drums and the guitarists play some wonderful melodies.
Last track, “Emotions Run Cold” is probably the weakest link of this miniCD. Well, it isn’t bad, because of its very aggressive and fast beginning, which actually sounds great – but I really don’t like these annoying clean vocal parts in the middle fragment. As much as I like Jonas’ harsh vocals, he cannot sing ha, ha! Anyway, this short fragment is maybe 10 seconds long only, so it doesn’t damage “Across the Horizon” that much. I think this recording is one of the brightest stars on the Swedish death metal sky! Probably there are just two things that I think could have been done better - one is the mentioned clean vocal parts, while the other thing I think are those fragments when Utumno rapidly changes the rhythms and riffing. Not always they do this perfectly, seems like the guitarists just couldn't come with the idea how to get things right. And then it just sounds weird and unobtained. Other than that, this is awesome and obligatory release.
Another of the long silenced voices of Swedish death in the 90s, Utumno were a band which few would argue had the potential to rise to prominence, yet for whatever reason failed to do so. Yes, for every At the Gates and Entombed, there were a dozen, hungry young groups of filthy Swedes wishing to snatch the cookie from their mouths, and this band could damn well have done so, had they made it beyond this EP. Culling both tracks from The Light of Day single in 1991, Across the Horizon is exactly the sort of statement a budding death metal band should make on the underground: tightly executed, raw old school appeal, resonant and torn vocals, and an awareness for atmosphere and subtle details that adds a timelessness.
"The Light of Day" itself, which strangely, was not one of the tracks from the single, showcases the band's morbid, drudging riffs and glints of somber melody, all within the first moment, and Jonas Stålhammar's vocals open up like an infernal mirror of Possessed's Jeff Becera waltzing with Lars-Goran Petrov in HELL. The bridge is intense, with wild, fibrous fuzz to the rhythm guitar and baleful, blistering leads, and the old school riffing in the end moment will tear the heads off fans of classic Death and Autopsy. "I Cross the Horizons" is a dire, melodic piece that shifts into bustling grooves, easily the measure of most At the Gates material, while the savage "In Misery I Dwell" and Entombed, doom-laden swagger of "Saviour Reborn" (both from the single) cement the band as something more than a mere wanna-be. "Sunrise" is a little sloppier, with a tranquil intro and a rather cancerous slew of riffs that never amount to much until the melodies deep at its heart, and "Emotions Run Cold" is a fairly straightforward death piece in the vein of Morbid Angel with severe, thrashing roots and another glint of melodic atmosphere.
Across the Horizon certainly starts off on its best feet, and then manages to maintain its level of consistency for some time before the uneven "Sunrise" arrives. I feel like that track might have been refined or simply cut for a better overall experience, but at least "Emotions Run Cold" awaits as compensation. The tones of the EP are stubborn and eerie in true 90s fashion, like a Left Hand Path or Life is an Ever Flowing Stream, and sure enough, these are the bands that most closely influence Utumno, though they've clearly educated themselves on their Floridian precursors. Potential this had, in spades, but I wouldn't say that the EP is some indispensable classic of its own right. However, f you're seeking out early, well written examples of the Swedish style, then this certainly makes the cut, along with Gorement, Uncanny, and numerous peers, and you'd do far better with this than many of the 21st century retro worshipers.
I will admit, I am a man who doesn't usually care much for Scandinavian death metal. I don't know if it's a difference of riffing style or song structure, or maybe it is the atmosphere the music gives out. I am not much of a fan of death metal bands of this period and in this area. I am usually a USDM fan, their are exceptions of course, and this is one of them.
Utumno play a more atmospheric style of death metal. They use tremolo picking, crushing slower riffs, twisted leads and thrashtastic riffs to weave some exceptional death metal. Most of the riffs are fast paced and hellish sounding, but the band switches to bone crushing slower riffs at the drop of a hat. The progressions are not always extremely convenient, but always interesting. I like the drumming very much. He doesn't always use typical beats and is often quite creative. There is no blast abusing, which is a plus. The blast beats are used in moderation and when most affective. The vocal work is also great. I really like the his vocal sound. He takes a higher pitched approach that sounds very hellish. His vocals really fits the music.
What we have here is 28 minutes(which is long for an EP) of death metal that stands apart from other generic sounds of the time. It's atmospheric, packed with riffs, memorable, dark and superior to almost all other Swedish death metal bands at the time.