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Permeating in the dark fog, under the full moonlight of the Norwegian sky arises the black metal, one-man band known as ‘Urkraft’. Fronted by one Andreas Wærholm, ‘Urkraft’ and his eponymous debut has a peculiar glimmer to it, that at its heart is tried and true black metal. Though to call it such is a bit disingenuous, as the album teeters between harkening calls to Blut Aus Nord-esque atmo-black metal and more melodic passages with dashes of spooky keyboards here and there. ‘Urkraft’ has an underlying tone of mysticism that can transform black metal into a dark, sinister magic. Does ‘Urkraft’ succeed in this atmospheric witchcraft? Certainly not without facing some haunting hurdles.
‘Urkraft’ does a good job at changing things up over its 43-minute run time. Just when you think you’re getting the standard, bread and butter black metal, those ghastly chants creep out from the forest with a cultish intensity, or a rapid shift in tempo from rabid metal to a slow paced and crushingly simple yet effective acoustic bridge. The bulk of the album is rooted in mid to fast paced black metal but it’s the bizarre tricks hiding up Urkraft’s sleeve that really keep me listening. Another standout moment is on the penultimate track ‘Fanget I Trolldommens Skog’ which opens with one of the funkiest bass lines and riffs I’ve heard in a black metal song since I first heard Taake. The album likes to play it safe most of the time with standard riffs, but whenever something comes out of left field, it’s always a welcome surprise. That said, most of the music is of average musicianship, played competently and with an attitude that is anything but lacking in energy or tenacity.
Speaking of average, the production of the album is painfully so. All the instruments, their tones, their mix, everything is so sterile and lacking in personality that it makes it difficult to commentate on. If it weren’t for the strong solos or the unorthodox quirks thrown in occasionally, this would be the definition of a modern, by the books sounding black metal record. It’s especially a shame due to the surprisingly good composition of the album and how each of the songs are arranged. And it’s not that everything sounds flat or nonexistent, it’s that I feel I’ve heard this album before, or I can find a dime a dozen other albums that sound like it. Only seldom do we see a cacophonous chaos of sound and ideas come together and they’re so dreadfully spread out that I can’t help but think less of the album. You get treats like the tracks ‘Svart Horisont’, ‘Dekadens’ and ‘Kongen Befaler’ which distract from the lackluster sound, but only for so briefly that you beg for them to be expanded upon and honed.
‘Urkraft’ has aspects and fun moments that really work in its favor, exceedingly so at times. Off kilter black metal is something a lot of people can appreciate, myself included, though Urkraft needs more of it. If the balance of this album was amazing black metal accentuated with odd yet compelling trinkets, then I’d be more inclined to give it a higher score. However, it’s standard, safe black metal with a dull sound, adorned with brief, fantastic moments with disappointing ratio of mediocrity to outstanding, mediocrity winning nine times out of ten. Funnily enough, it’s the amazing break from mediocrity on this LP that makes the mediocrity stick out like a sore thumb. This album didn’t wow me entirely, but I cannot deny that some parts left me wanting more from the band. If ‘Urkraft’ doubled down on the experimental, atmospheric rigmarole that was peppered throughout this album on their next, I’d be want to check it out. (Special kudos for the intro, ambient track for reminding me of ‘Friday the 13th’).
Release date: May 28th, 2020
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