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Voyager - 99%

OzzyApu, September 6th, 2009

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.