Úlfúð – Of Existential Distortion (Dark Descent Records)Friday, 17th March 2023
Iceland is a country known for many things. Beautifully varying natural landscapes, unique culture, a sustainable and a high quality of life. How to sign up, right? For the purposes here, however, the focus is on a major and high quality export: Icelandic black metal. Thinking about bands such as Sólstafir, Misþyrming, Kontinuum, Carpe Noctem, Svartidauði (please come back), Zhrine, Sinmara, Dynfari, amongst many others, the impact on metal music from this island in the North Atlantic has been profound.
Entering the fray, we have Úlfúð, who play a blackened death metal style that leans somewhat more towards the blackened part of the equation. They released an EP in 2018 titled First Sermon, which was a solid four song introduction to what this quintet is capable of. Close to five years later, their debut full-length Of Existential Distortion is at our doorstep.
A blackened march of sorts opens “Where Strange Lights Dance” before divulging into an instantly memorable lead and harmonies that propel their melodic side, while Sigurður Jakobsson’s drum pounding gives a punchy counterbalance. No doubt a bombastic opening, and “Tears of Terra” doesn’t allow momentum to be broken, with a bend toward the death metal side of Úlfúð. This is a showcase of crunchy riffs with a razor sharp blackened guitar tone, which is most certainly an effectively defining piece of their sound. Grandiosity continues with “Mockery Theatre,” harkening an early Emperor influence in the guitar work, while vocalist Breki Danielsen Imsland provides a pitch perfect, gritty snarl that binds it all together.
The tempo is slowed just enough on “Faceless” to steer the ship on a new path, akin to fellow Icelanders Svartidauði in atmosphere and pacing, but with a slight pinch of doom for added flavor. Firmly entrenched in the icy glacier of Vatnajökull is “The Gods Left Behind” with grim atmospheric textures and frigid guitars, along with a fitting vocal chant for ambiance, culminating into one of Of Existential Distortion’s best tracks. More pounding riffs are the backbone of “Questions,” while “An Elegy to a Paradise Out of Reach” is by far the longest and most varied, loaded with harmonics that highlight a quintessential melding of heavy undertones with emotive atmosphere. Not to be outdone, “Leviathan Dreams” leaves the listener with a sinister smash to the face with uncompromising tonal devastation that leaves a devastating mark.
The tradition of quality dark and foreboding Icelandic black metal continues with a raucous debut in Of Existential Distortion. A keen songwriting knack combined with an instinctual ability to create symbiotic balance are hallmarks of what make Úlfúð’s music memorable. Additionally, their penchant of enshrouding the listener with ominously biting heaviness to give significant heft that others of this style lack. Dark Descent have another breakout band on their hands, and Úlfúð are just getting started.