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Pretty decent metal from Latvia - 73%

Daemonlord, July 17th, 2011

Latvian metal anyone? As great as the Baltic metal scene is as a whole, to be perfectly honest I've only really ever been aware of a single Latvian band ever (the fantastic Skyforger). In fact, I'd have bet my favorite testicle that if there were any others of worth that I've been missing all these years, you could've scribbled the whole list on the back of a postage stamp. Well, apparently I'm wrong. Latvia have a pretty strong scene going on by the looks of things, and Urskumug are here to shove that in everyone's faces with a pretty damn impressive debut release.

Getting the usual throwaway 'industrial' intro out of the way, the first true song begins with a beefed up, crushing riff (borrowing a few Voivod chords by the sound of things) that really made me sit up and take notice. Urskumug actually sound a fair bit like late Emperor at times, albeit a more anomalous and less progressive Empiric entity with really strange arrangements, shimmering arpeggios laden over tremolo picked natural harmonics (that's jangley bits over tootley bits for the non-musicians out there), and a hell of a lot of atmosphere. The production is top notch, helping the album to sound like full on battle involving legions of warriors as opposed to a drunken scuffle in a pub car park, and the musicianship is faultless throughout (again made more noticeable by the pristine studio sheen). Even with the perfect sound though, the album is still as raw as you could want, and barbaric as a barbarian covered in barbs, who works for Barbarian Wrath. Think of the new Merrimack album, and you'll have a rough idea what I'm rambling about. There's also some good use of synthesizer work throughout the more chilled sections, helping to bring the Latvian folk-vibe to the fore a lot more, which works really well when taken in context with the rest of music.

The band themselves say that they play 'Tribal Black Metal'. Well, personally I don't like that term, mainly for the fact it makes me think of Max Cavalera. No-one wants that nowadays. But rest assured, Urskumug are a breed apart from any dubious Portuguese grave translations, or flying souls for that matter (see what I did there? me clever). Go check 'em out.

Originally written for

God might not want to bless them after this - 75%

autothrall, November 20th, 2010

Latvian metal. The prospect is not one I tend to think about, and outside of a few noted acts like Skyforger and Neglected Fields, it's a rather barren field, at least in the perception of the international underground. Urskumug might just be the band to change that, because they possess a measured maturity and distinct flavor which, while not entirely relieved of comparisons to other, noted acts, is rapt and focused enough to cast some illusions of originality. The ever shifting lineup situation might have crippled the band's progress to this point (Krauklis being the one central, persistent force), but make no bones about it: Am Nord is a quality debut album worth the time of anyone into pagan metal void of many cliches.

No, you won't find regiments of would be minstrels fluttering their archaic stringed stupidity in the guise of a Renaissance fair gone tragically wrong, and aside from the haunting choral synth in the bridge of the title track, you're not going to encounter fairycore vocals. The experimentation here is limited to tribal, haughty percussion ("Am Nodr"), breathy but brief ambient samplings that prefix and append a number of tracks, industrial overlays, and a squelching apocalyptic intro ("2010"). The rest is progressive, writhing black metal loaded with riffs, and a clear influence from thrash and death metal. Several of the compositions ("Time of the Jackdaw", "Mother of Halfworld") are loaded with 6-7 minutes of twists and turns that, while never truly catchy, are nonetheless interesting, but my favorites here are "Talking to a Shaman's Son" with its tiny, loopy melodies that poke through the surging banks of razor-edged chords, and the oddly titled "----" which sounds like a caustic spin on primal melodic death metal. "Beowulf" is another moody, perplexing trip with loads of atmospheric content.

For such an unknown herald, the production on Am Nodr is quite excellent, especially in the steady guitars and the way the tribal and darkly brooding atmospheric elements hover just beyond the din of the driving drums. The vocals are nothing special, just the expected black metal slather, but they're loud and in charge and are never quite claimed by the eviscerated ennui of so many front men in this field. Clearly, Urskumug (whose name is taken from a character in Robert Holdstock's fantasy classic Mythago Wood) has something to offer us, even if there is much refinement to be done. I do feel like a band calling itself 'tribal' black metal should probably have a more even split of tribal and black elements, which here lean far more on the latter, but a serious, initial statement like this can only promise better things to come...I hope?


Baltic fury returns... - 83%

helvetekrieg, November 21st, 2006

The Baltic region is nestled between Poland, Belarus, and Russia, and lies a stone’s throw south of Finland’s southernmost shores. While Finnish metal has been all the rage for quite some time now, and Poland has become THE country of origin for brutal death metal, the Baltics’ other neighbors leave much to be desired by way of musical influence - Mother Russia seems as though she’d be less than fond of leather-jacketed longhairs with guitars and bad attitudes, and I challenge any of you to properly locate Belarus on a map. However, unfortunate geography besides, the region has slowly but surely began to make a name for itself in the international metal scene. The recent ten-year anniversary of Ledo Takas Records and success of Skyforger, Obtest, and Dissimulation (the latter two of which will be appearing at the Heathen Crusade Festival in Minnesota this year) has paved the way for a new crop of Baltic hopefuls that are trying their best to make it out of their area.

One such band, Urskumug, has just released their second full-length album on Ledo Takas, who are hyping AM NODR as “the next Baltic entity to be reckoned with.” They fall under the self-assigned tag of “tribal black metal,” which means they basically sound like raw, thrashy BM with a few folky and atmospheric elements thrown in for flavor. Their lyrics apparently deal with the subject of Shamanism, alongside the concepts of Time and the Shadow, which automatically distances them from their more Satanic peers and sheds some light on the “tribal” association. Musically, Urskumug relies on a drum machine to keep pace and rather than being heavy-handed with the keyboards, they use them only to convey atmospheres, and by doing so, manage to nail down that elusive “cold” quality that black metal prizes so highly. A grating electronic intro starts things off on a wrong note, then rights itself by segueing into the dark melody of “Time of the Jackdaw,” which sets the tone for the rest of the album. Slight effects and ambient elements are added in to offset the ravishing grimness of it all, and contribute to Urskumug’s unique sound. They were unafraid to embrace melody on this album, and it’s a good thing, too; the haunting ambience adds to the music in a way that pure brutality wouldn’t have.

As grim and caustic as the vocals are, and despite the chainsaw guitar tone, AM NODR is not a straight-up black metal records, or even a straight-up “tribal black metal” record (though for all I know, it could be; I’d never heard of that infinitely-specific subgenre before this band). Besides the aforementioned ambient bits’n’pieces, they integrate a lot of death metal into their blackened assault, mainly in the vocals and the bursts of technicality that can be found on AM NODR. Krauklis’ vocals veer between a throat-shredding mid-level croak that’s reminiscent of Abbath at times, and beastly deeper growls that leave no room for clean singing or female vocals – added claptrap that has spoiled many a good black metal release. They do indulge in a bit of spoken-word, but it’s done in their native Latvian tongue, and, to be honest, sounds really cool. Same goes for the tribal drums and chants they employ in the background or during quiet moments; as gratuitous as such devices may seem, they really work here. Overall, AM NODR is an album worth owning, and Urskumug is definitely worth checking out.

-Kim Kelly 2006-