Urfaust- Untergang (Album Review)

Aug. 21, 2023


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After two decades, Urfaust has returned to the void.  Before calling it quits, the Dutch duo decided to give listener one more album in the form of Untergang and it feels like a true culmination of everything they’ve done throughout their career.  Originally starting off as an ambient project on their earlier material before transforming into an off-kilter black metal band and later a more doom oriented one, Urfaust has always had an intoxicating effect with their material and captured a sound that’s wholly unique.  2020’s Teufelsgeist was a natural continuation of the more methodical and doom-oriented sound of The Constellatory Practice, retaining its clearer production and booming sound.  Untergang recalls the earlier days with a much rougher around the edges approach that’s arguably as noisy as some of the group’s first three albums, but with equal amounts of black and doom.  It’s a brilliant send-off that is up there with some of Urfaust’s best efforts and may also serve as an appropriate entry point for those discovering the band at this late stage.

Teufelsgeist started off with a more mysterious and lighter feel early on with its spacey ambient approach, but Untergang brings things right back to the darker and grimier side of the spectrum.  The title track still has slow, methodical riffing that emphasizes some repetition to build up a hypnotizing atmosphere, which have become hallmarks of Urfaust’s sound across their discography.  But there’s a noticeably more sinister slant to the tonality and the harshness recalls their earlier material rather than the cleaner, fuller production of Empty Space Meditation or The Constellatory Practice.  This stands out particularly on “Leere”, which has tonality that almost sounds off and makes you feel like you’re listening to black/doom through an extremely drunken lens.  This reminded me of some of Urfaust’s material from their first two albums or even the Ritual Music for the True Clochard compilation, and the main riff is strong enough to keep you coming back for another taste of its off-kilter sound.  “Reliquienstaub” and “Atomtod” serve as instrumental interludes between the main courses with some dips into ambient once again, but they still have a much darker and distorted style that’s more unnerving than calming.  “Abgrund” finishes things off with a similar methodical cadence as the title track, but the layers of atmosphere over top of the main riff are truly stunning and the duo branches out ever so slightly with some flashier guitar work.  While I’ve criticized some doom and black metal artists for too much repetition, Urfaust has always been a master at utilizing it to build up to intoxicating levels and always cut things off before they seem to overstay their welcome, and that’s once again the case here.  At thirty-seven minutes Untergang is easy to absorb in its entirety, and as “Abgrund” fades out chances are good you’ll want to hit the repeat button and take the descent into darkness and dread all over again.

IX’s diverse vocal work has been one of Urfaust’s other unique elements, as he is capable of a soaring and almost operatic clean pitch alongside much harsher shrieks and screams that are as ear piercing as some depressive black metal artists.  Both ranges are utilized throughout Untergang, though you’re first met with the cleaner ranges.  With the production opting for a rougher, grittier approach this time the vocals aren’t quite as prominent and sometimes sound like they’re echoing off in the background, struggling to break through the noisier layers.  It’s likely to be an acquired taste for newcomers, but those who have been with Urfaust for any period of time will find that it suits the overall feel of the material.  Where the initial performance has a slightly grittier but hypnotic effect, the second track “Höllenkosmos” is where things get much more abrasive.  Here the vocals are still slightly off in the background, but come through as much more distorted screams, growls, and everything in between.  The performance has a more fluid, manic feel throughout Untergang that makes it stand out just as much as the instrumentation, and this matches the intensity Urfaust has offered on each of their releases.

People seem to prefer different eras of Urfaust based on their personal tastes, with some enjoying the off-kilter black metal more and others gravitating towards the cleaner production and ritualistic doom sound.  Wherever you fall on this spectrum, I think Untergang still has plenty to offer and some of its grittier, jagged edged riffs will stand out over repeat listens.  Time will tell where the duo’s final effort falls in their discography, but I personally like it a bit more than Teufelsgeist (and I still found that one to be an A effort).  Who knows where IX and VRDRBR will head as they go their separate ways, but they leave an impressive body of work behind them and have finished with one of 2023’s highlights.  Untergang is available from Ván Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg