|Review: Blut Aus Nord - Ultima Thulée|
Label: Impure Creations Records
Year released: 2005
Originally released in: 1995
Genre: Black Metal
Review online: March 13, 2009
Reviewed by: Brett Buckle
Rated 4.17/5 (83.33%) (30 Votes)
Blut Aus Nord are an enigma in the realms of Black Metal (if you need convincing of this, you need simply to check out their mind boggling web site), and the avant-garde offering of their debut album Ultima Thulée cemented that air from the very beginning in a manner that has not been effectively emulated since.
After the musical and thematic ideas have been cemented in place by album opener "The Son of Hoarfrost", a slightly disconcerting keyboard sections opens "The Plain of Ida", very melancholic and cold, it gives the feeling of standing alone on an icy plain under a clear sky and rising sun. Then the listener is treated to an almost funeral dirge as a wall of crushing guitars herald a roll of thunder and darkened skies. The viciously harsh shrieks of Vindsval provide a feeling of terror at being trapped in this expansive prison, and the interplay between these forlorn cries, the icy guitars and astral keys weave through the track, giving it a feeling of an epic journey. Quite remarkable. Distant monkish chants accompany the rumbling of the start of "From Hildskjalf" and continue that perfectly executed feeling of being lost and alone in the wind and snow that the album is built upon, building up to an absolutely huge wall of brutality in the middle of the track. The haunting Gregorian vocals of "My Prayer Beyond Ginnugagap" are the last sounds you might expect to hear as you succumb to hypothermia; distant and warm yet filtered through the frosty air, they slowly bring you to a peace with your fate. Perhaps they go on just a little too long, but the melodic acoustic guitars that introduce "'Till I Perceive Bifrost" will open your eyes and then drive you forward with the urgent tidal wave of sound and stark screeching, telling you in no uncertain terms that your journey has not yet reached its end and that you have many miles left to travel before you can rest.
The sound of Ultima Thulée is bleak in the extreme and utterly raw without being weak. The guitars, for all their snowy white noise, have plenty of grunt with an ominous bottom end that really comes to the fore on the slower sections. The bass is there, though at times you are left wondering whether it is simply a side-effect of the icy wall of sound that defines the album. Ultima Thulée uses keyboard to great effect throughout as their spacey, psychedelic tones enhance the alien nature of the soundscape that is being painted upon the ice, never out staying their welcome when they are alone, and never intruding when they are accompaniment or melodic lead. The album would not be as successful without them.
As a debut, Ultima Thulée is a wholly remarkable piece of cold and dark art. This is what Black Metal is all about – the bleak and penetrating atmosphere will send chills down your spine in even the warmest of climes, and the narrative ebb and flow of the music will draw you into the carefully crafted lands of unending ice, and provides an urgent narrative to keep you on the edge of your seat. For those who are familiar with Blut Aus Nord's later works, do not dismiss this album; it is a tour de force of austere and harsh Black Metal, an atmospheric testament to the evocative power of the second wave, and a classic album that rarely gets the praise it deserves.
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