As a part of the musicians’ collective Helvetic Underground Committee, the Swiss folk-and-folklore-influenced Black Metal duo Ungfell have been highly productive regarding musical output. Founded in 2014 by Menetekel, their first two EPs were released in 2015, with their first full-length album being recorded in 2016 and independently released in 2017. After the second full-length ‘Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz’ (‘Myths, Fables, Pestilence’) was released through Eisenwald Tonschmiede, it is now time to bring the first full-length Tôtbringære back in a remastered version by Greg Chandler, as the first small-scale release was quickly sold out. As a bonus, the new track Das Hexenmal that recently got published on Ungfell’s Bandcamp page and as a YouTube music video will be added as a ninth track to the former eight. So, brace your ears for August 2nd!
As if it wasn’t hard enough to write about a band you love, it’s even harder to write a review on a record that you have listened to many times over the years because it is, quite simply, great. The title ‘Tôtbringære’ is Middle High German (the mediaeval form of German that was spoken in the more Southern German-speaking regions of Europe) for ‘Death Bringer,’ which is echoed by the eerie, etching-style illustration of a flute player wearing a terrifying mask, evoking associations of pest masks or animal skulls. Some of the eight songs also have Middle High German titles, whereas all the lyrics are written in Standard German. But that’s enough historical linguistics for now – let’s dive straight into the record!
The first track Viures Brunst starts off as a beautifully folky intro sporting hurdy gurdy, percussion and shouting men’s voices in the background; it speaks of sorrow and strife, and plays with breaks and differences in volume, as well as foregrounding and backgrounding of the different sounds and melodies. The tension reaches a peak before trickling out, fittingly underlaid with the sound of flowing water.
Next up is Die bleiche Göttin – we get right into the uniquely folky Black Metal madness that makes Ungfell so magickal. The Swiss pair of musicians manages to create Black Metal that is raw, hair-raisingly vile and savage and at the same time melodic and tension-creatingly slow. Their music appears to be both an invitation to a witches’ sabbath, and simultaneously the admiration and fear of those who do not know the Craft mingled into songs. This track also plays with a brightly distorted yet soft guitar sound in the solo parts, while the vocals are uniquely high-pitched and have a strong recognition value. At times, the vocals play with polyphonies including lower-pitched screams echoing in the background.
Track number three is Gottes Acker, a story-like seven-minute journey – it captivates with three-quarter time as well as a substantial mixture of crisply distorted melodies over equally crisply distorted riffing. The energetic timing adds to the medievally rough atmosphere of this tune, that is otherwise enhanced by choral singing, heartily screeching screams and an eerie German spoken word interlude along the meaning: “I’ve always been indifferent to humans. I do not belong to their community. I do not live in the real world any more.”
Trommler Tod (Drummer Death) is introduced by a marrow-stirring scream, followed by surprisingly serene and carried guitars as well as a simple drum rhythm evoking associations of walking drummers – so the title is put into practice. Infermita‘s drums practice rhythmic variation throughout and we get a fair share of slowed down intensity and warmly fuzzy yet coldy distorted solo melodies. It ends with a flute melody and bells over a sonorous male voice singing softly in the background.
Der Ûzsieche und sîne Grimmede really emobdies Ungfell‘s quality of gradual tension building and motif work: It‘s truly like being slowly introduced into a new aural story each time. After the first initial madness there‘s a quiet breather before the song truly gets into it after about 1:20 minutes. A carried and mourning hurdy gurdy interlude as well as an outro with accordion and acoustic guitars garnish the tune.
Wechselbalg tells of a hellish and daemonic creature disguised as a baby; fittingly, we hear a baby crying after the first verse. Otherwise, the song convinces with simple and forward-pushing drums and a bit of mandolin action.
Next up is Slahtære, an instrumental track truly carried by minimal yet emotive bell percussion. Quiet humming and snippets of spoken word in the background make this tune mystical and eerie, preparing us for the sounds of howling wind at the beginning of Der Opfersprung. Plucked acoustic guitar, tribal drums in the distance, accordion, bass and spoken word set in gradually and hypnotically; this prepares for the rather carried and all the heavier amplified instrumentals and very rhythmic screams. This tune shows a wonderful interplay between guitars and accordion, working itself up into a frenzy with increasingly insane vocals before moving into slower, more wistful and melodic realms again – at least for a while.
At last, Das Hexenmal makes for a final folky onslaught that definitely echoes the musical development presented in ‘Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz.’ This track is energetic, heavy on cymbals, and has true potential to become a favourite: It’s catchy in a non-monotonous way as melodic motifs keep being repeated and developed throughout, enhanced by very intricate sound engineering that manages to seamlessly move instruments from fore- to background again and again.
All in all: Listen to this! Even if you think you’re not into Black Metal with Folk influences – do it anyway. Ungfell manage to pull you right into the depths of witchery, the Dark Ages and folklore, and you won’t want to leave.
GET YOUR HANDS ON UNGFELL’S TOTBRINGAERE FROM THEIR BANDCAMP HERE!