By: Owen Coggins
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Released on October 28, 2016 via
The band announced on social media that there would be no ‘new age ambient tunes’ on their new full-length record Empty Space Meditations, presumably in response to fans who prefer their metal tracks to the atmospheric drones that accompany them on most albums. Despite loving drone, I used to be part of that camp too, but revisiting some of the older records, I’ve come to acknowledge them as masters of the subtle art of dark foreboding drones, as well as for their spectacular and original stately riff and operatic incantation style of black metal. Despite their disclaimer, however, the opening track, is an atmospheric soundscape after all, starting the album off with a groaning, droning piece of textured sound. Spacious and dark but with glimmers of light amongst the shadows, it’s really well balanced, the sleeping cave beast growls gradually giving way to an empty-cathedral-at-dusk feel. Tinkling chimes are tuned just exactly on the edge between melodic and sound-effect creepy, and the long, shifting keyed notes add sombre stained-glass colour to the nebulous clouds of dark noise.
Those who prefer their Urfaust on the raging weirdness side, however, shouldn’t worry… the intro track soon builds with a distorted foreboding into the next track, and from here we already know it will be monstrous. ‘Meditatum II’ now detonates as if it’s the band’s version of the big bang, where all aspects and facets of the Urfaust universe explode all at once out of a single point of infinite density: the hymnal organ sounds, the guttural shrieking, the juddering riffing and the percussion that’s both agile and boneheadedly thumping.
‘Meditatum III’ and ‘IV’ (yes, that’s all we get for track titles) are slow enough that it’s almost a doomy kind of heaviness, where the gravity of the music’s flow has time to solidify around the beats. Later on, the keyboard/organ trumpets along as if trying to step out of the sticky tar of that guitar-drum basis. And of course, the vocals are pure operatic evil genius, halfway between Doctor Faustus and Mephistopheles: part human railing at the limitations of mortality and wishing to glimpse beyond, but also part demon, wild-eyed and gleefully revelling in occult knowledge that necessarily pushes you past the balance of sanity. In ‘Meditatum IV’ the screeches and howls are even more demented, giving way finally to a last period of entranced-zombie low mumbles.
The final track adds a metallic sitarlike sound, and this plays a great role in amassing the atmospheric tension during the quieter bits where the tense drumming keeps the air thick with octarine sparks. The strumming guitars and sitars kindles a flickering ritual strangeness, which actually manages to sustain a greater and more focused weirdness through never quite exploding into noisy thrashing. Instead, the track wanders unsteadily along the borderline between controlled magic and the chaos of insanity. Urfaust at their best, this is the sound of a drunken devil trying to keep its balance while staggering along a steep and wintry rooftop.
It’s as you’d hope from a new Urfaust record, more of their bizarrely powerful riffing, perhaps even more dramatic than some of their previous classic work, and with a few touches of something new. The Indian instrument timbres on the final track, the powerful dragging slowness on the middle two tracks, and some odd resonating drone sounds that appear here and there: new elements added to flavour the existing trusted alchemical formula of Urfaust’s peculiarly intoxicating brew.