Tôtbringære is the debut album from Ungfell, a dark blending of raw and vicious black metal with melancholic folk from the Swiss duo. Whilst this wouldn’t have been the first time that the two genres have crossed over, indeed the history of the melding of the two genres goes back nearly as far as black metal itself, it often produces mixed results. Sometimes it comes in the form of acoustic/traditional instrumental interludes, and other times such instruments are used to add a pretty layer atop black metal used for a “beautiful” or “atmospheric” effect. It works very effectively a lot of the time, and at a lot of others not so much but on Tôtbringære two things are clear – there is no gimmick whatsoever from the use of traditional instrumentation and vocals here, the songs are written with the same melodic and dynamic sense that spans and fuses the two usually disparate elements together so perfectly it feels you could not remove one nor the other without spoiling their effect on the album; the other is that this is one of the most misanthropic, raw and melancholic black metal albums you’re likely to hear with folk elements. It feels completely unique in its sound especially with the misanthropic sound and perfect melding of the two approaches.
The opener Viures Brunst is a great folky piece on it’s own merits, the melancholic and minor key guitar acoustic melodies are melded with martial percussion, flutes and accordian with great pacing and melody, recalling something in between Wardruna and Drudkh, while the harsh vocals (in German obviously, being Swiss) are kept rather in the background. It’s a short, eerie and melancholic piece and sets the scene for the following Die Bleiche Göttin kicking off with an ear-rending high pitched scream filled with absolute pain, hatred and melancholy, high in the mix against tinny sounding blastbeats, again similar to Drudkh, low tuned bass rumbling along with a raw sound and every pluck of the strings audible. Even with such forceful vocals (one will notice the occasional low pitched death growl low in the mix too) and loud bass it’s the guitars that steal the show though. The variation is immense, the tremolo picked melodic riffs could be transposed to traditional instrumentation and it would easily still retain the same melancholic but beautiful (yes, despite the rawness of the production they are beautiful) melodies. It’s not all tremolo melodies, there’s some great leads with a folky melody that snake their way through the track, which unfortunately ends quite abruptly. One also notices the speed at which everything moves, the raw production mixed with the frenetic speed at which the screams burst from the singer’s lungs, the insistence of the guitars and the ridiculously fast hammering bass gives the track a huge level of energy. With this production where everything is loud and raw it should be cacophonous but it just enhances this level of energy and comes across as completely intentional and they work this production to their advantage in the music, everything is audible and effective.
The following track Gottes Acker shows yet more variation, the brash slow melody controlling the track stops abruptly for some spoken word before carrying on alone, then the drums come back in with the screamed vocals. Giving way to shimmering tremolo picking the vocals suddenly turn to ritualistic chants, then back into screams as a clean guitar weaves through the track with folky melodies against accordion while the blackened riffs and blasts continue then let up in a completely unpredictable stop start track. A chugged riff on its own in the middle of the track gives way to a folk riff with an oom-pah sort of rythm played on distorted guitar, before it changes riff and tempo constantly until the end, with more spoken words, chants, tremolos, blasts, breaks and as many twists and turns as a medieval fairy tale. There’s no filler to be had across the album, each track is filled with genius guitar work and tempo changes that keep you guessing throughout, but I will give special mention to Wechselbalg as being the best piece on the album. The dramatic build up the sliding guitar riffs give before breaking down into a minor key acoustic chord pattern sets the scene for the blast beats and aggressive riffs to come, at a rare point where the album goes for all out aggression over melody in it’s guitars, before the melody comes back after some of the most fast, vicious and ear rending vocal lines across the album. The two guitar riffs, the higher pitched and the lower tremolos interweaving at the half way mark along with the rhythmic bass and drums have a waltz like folk rhythm at lightning speed, a traditional folk song sped up like some kind of satanic ritual in the forests of old. As usual there’s the breaks, the acoustic interludes, the tempo changes and the ever refreshing evolution in the guitar melodies.
Tôtbringære sounds completely unique in the world of folk inspired black metal, the raw production, all out aggressiveness of every instrument and vocal line meld completely well with the folky melodic and rhythmic sense that runs throughout. It’s simultaneously beautiful and ear-rending most of the time and always stunning in the sheer creativity that oozes in every moment. There are so many ideas here it feels like it lasts much longer than forty five minutes, but that’s a good thing. The folk elements are interwoven perfectly – the parts on traditional instrumentation could be transposed to electric guitars, bass and modern drums, and the black metal parts transposed back to folk instrumentation without taking anything from the intent behind either. If you’re looking for one of the most original black metal albums of the year without one single gimmick, just skilled musicianship, ear for tone and creativity you could do much worse than Ungfell’s Tôtbringære.