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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-