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Echoing phantasm in the mist. - 65%

GrizzlyButts, March 13th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Ashen Dominion (Digipak)

Ukrainian pagan black metal duo Ulvegr have rammed their way into 2018 with an almost immediate new album off the cuff of ‘Titahion: Kaos Manifest’. You’d almost think it was a different band if you’d only heard the previous album as ‘Varkgkult’ is a brutal return to their earlier days most often compared to Hate Forest. Stripped down yet still retaining their pagan/melodic black metal guitar sensibilities Ulvegr have carved an unexpectedly hateful and ruinous new sound for themselves. ‘Vargkult’ is best described as a ‘grating grower’ in the sense that it is initially brazen and raw black metal that rakes the soul with the clanging sounds of black metal hell, but eventually eases up and builds redeeming qualities before it ends.

My favorite releases from Ulvegr are the more melodic ones and ‘Where the Icecold Blood Storms’ is an oddly graceful and depressive melodic black metal album well worth a listen if you don’t already know the project. ‘Vargkult’ actually reaches into what I’d consider Finnish black metal territory rather than semi-melodic pagan black metal intent found elsewhere in their discography. The album more-or-less has the underlying melodic guitar attack of ‘Arctogaia’ but less early Kampfar and more ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’. Also don’t expect the Hate Forest style growled Bathory-esque moments found on their 2014 album ‘Call of the Glacial Emptiness’. So, longtime fans should be excited to hear Ulvegr tackle something new and abrasive, especially if ‘Titahion: Kaos Manifest’ felt operatic and overly polished for your taste.

There are several standout tracks here and for my taste most of them happen on the B-side. “Cold Graves Breathing Beast” is a powerful almost Gorgoroth-esque arrangement with some of my favorite riffs on the album; I don’t think I’d ever heard Helg use such a brutally gargled vocal style before this album and it is additionally very effective. From there the album starts to really explode with the “Death is Our Law”, perhaps the most aggressive and succinct piece on ‘Vargkult’ with excellent drum work. Finally “All The Sheep to the Slaughter” most clearly recalled ‘Where the Icecold Blood Storms’ and pushes towards the end of the album with some regal melodic guitar work.

Some of the value in this Ulvegr recording does admittedly come from it’s juxtaposition with the entirely different full-length they put out in 2017 but beyond the raw surprise of orthodoxy ‘Vargkult’ sounds like Ulvegr in their most comfortable and inspired state. This sort of hatefully raw and semi-melodic black metal a hellishly good time. Just don’t give up on the album if you find the first track abrasive and irritating, it improves as it plays.