Siberia is often spoken of in reverential tones, with reference to its bleak icy plains, desolation and the infamous gulags. While Russia is developing a strong underground metal scene the sheer geographical constraints of Siberia seem to hold this near mythical landscape at bay. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken me a couple of years to catch up with Ultar, a post black metal five-piece hailing from Krasnoyarsk. The Siberian town is flanked by barren woodland and red mountains and Ultar absorb this challenging and hostile environment into their music.
Originally called Deafknife when formed in 2011, a makeover five years later saw the band reborn as Ultar with a commitment to delivering sweeping sonic statements full of fire-breathing post black metal. Kadath was the first release under the new band framework and having just received a copy I make no apologies for sharing a few words on it, despite the passing of a couple of years since its initial release.
If you’re seeking a musical point of reference then Ukraine solo project Drudkh is not a bad one, both in terms of geography and sound. But while that exists as a stand-alone studio project Ultar are very much alive and kicking with a stream of gigs forthcoming in Russia as well as further afield in the Czech Republic. For similar minded brethren nearer to home then Belgian bludgeoners Wiegedood come close as do our very West Midlands marauders Conjurer.
Kadath is a conceptual album capturing the journey of a young man to the Lovecraftian divine City of Gods of that name, hidden in the Land of Dreams. While HP’s legendary tales provide a platform for the story, what Ultar really seek to illuminate is what goes on deep within our own minds and the search for our own inner freedom.
The first step on that journey is ‘Nyarlathotep’ which sees its haunting intro shattered after a minute or so with an absolutely scorching flurry of rhythms that almost stop you dead in your tracks. What follows is an immaculately woven blanket of post black metal, vibrating with energy but with some slower atmospheric sequences injected equally to commanding effect. As openers go ‘Nyarlathotep’ is little short of superb setting your senses racing about what else these Siberian crusaders have in store. ‘Azathoth’ is an immediate confirmation that our initial optimism is not misplaced. The seamless surges of contoured grooves give the overall sound a restlessness that means you simply can’t pull yourself away for fear of missing something. The vocals are spartan, harsh and satisfying while the momentum that drives these songs forward is a blast of such cold defiance that you may have to put on an extra layer when listening.
While Ultar excel in creating frostbitten soundscapes that take you on a journey deep into the mountains there are a couple of notable shorter tracks on Kadath, the shimmering and ethereal ‘Shores of the Sleeping Seas’ and the unnerving darkness of ‘The Ancient Ones’. Sandwiched between these two slightly more minimalist numbers is the raging ‘Xasthur’ which ignites like an angry Greek God, breathing fire of an intensity capable of cracking the ice on the biggest of Siberia’s frozen lakes. The riff cuts are pin stripe sharp and no vocals are needed within their heady maelstrom, just a few deep bellowing huffs and puffs.
You won’t by now be surprised to learn that the closing 15-minute title track is another undiscovered treasure, albeit one from Ultar’s deep freezer. After a storming first couple of minutes a more expansive sound is allowed to develop with some melting melodies although the heavier attacks are never out of reach.
The only disappointing thing I can find to say about Kadath is the fact that it took me two years to unearth. Oh well, better late than never…