Urfaust has been a unique entity in the metal scene for fifteen years now, providing a mixture of black metal, doom, and dark ambient that were heavy on atmosphere and an otherworldly feel. 2015’s Apparitions began a trilogy of releases focused around slower, methodical material that were capable of putting listeners into a trance and staring into the unknown and the following year Empty Space Meditation moved this concept forward with spine chilling black metal and stretched out ambient passages. The finale of the trilogy, this year’s The Constellatory Practice, feels like a natural transition between all the elements Urfaust has conjured over the previous two releases while continuing to move forward. Spread across six lengthy tracks, each listen brings additional nuances to the surface and draws the listener into the band’s stunning ambiance. Where Empty Space Meditation sometimes saw the group howling into the void, The Constellatory Practice adopts a relaxed approach and suggests that listeners fully immerse themselves in darkness and powers beyond their control.
The core elements that made up the previous two releases are still present here, but Urfaust has transformed them further into something new and unrecognizable. Instead of a lengthier ambient interlude, a few brief seconds of spacey melodies kick off The Constellatory Practice before the booming instrumentation overtakes it. The instrumentals have utilized faster tempos at key points in the past, but here the band keeps things slow and methodical the entire time, increasing the speed only slightly when the soaring atmosphere demands it. Stylistically this puts the album somewhere between black metal and doom, but the way the riffs ebb and flow make the songs not fall squarely into either category. Riffs and drum beats spread forward and repeat in a very methodical manner, and while others may have succumbed to this type of repetitive approach there isn’t a minute on this album that feels wasted. The most remarkable part of The Constellatory Practice is that for all its dark atmosphere and abrasive edges, the overall feel is one of relaxation and meditation, allowing the listener to feel at ease with everything happening around them. There are plenty of individual stand-out sections, whether it’s the swirling guitars and booming drums near the halfway point of “Behind the Veil of the Trance of Sleep” or the sheer weight of the instrumentals on “False Sensorial Impressions”, but the album also manages to be consistently engaging from beginning to end.
Willem’s vocal work has been one of the most distinguishable elements of the band’s music for much of their career, as his cleaner pitches have allowed Urfaust to go in very different directions from a lot of other black metal. This is on display from the very beginning, as opener “Doctrine of Spirit Obsession” lets his operatic singing hang over the recording with an otherworldly presence. But the pitches don’t stay in one place for too long, heading into both higher and lower registers that complement the atmosphere at any given moment. “Behind the Veil of the Trance of Sleep” and “False Sensorial Impressions” head into harsher ranges that are sure to remind listeners that when Urfaust wants to they can scream and growl as abrasively as anyone else, but they’re not the focus of the material. Like with the instrumental structure, the vocals are oriented around methodical arrangements that are capable of a hypnotic effect on the listener.
Empty Space Meditation stood out as the album that made the strongest impact on me in 2016, and The Constellatory Practice looks like it will stand as one of the best releases to come out this year. The duo has further refined the mixture of hypnotic black metal, doom, and spacey ambient melodies showcased previously and delivered atmosphere that is capable of both relaxing you and sending shivers down your spine from one minute to the next. Urfaust continues to outdo themselves with each recording and fifteen years in they still sound completely different from almost anything else out there. The Constellatory Practice is out now on Ván Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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