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Ultima Thulée (1995)

Blut aus Nord is a French black metal band that hails from Normandy, a region with close historical ties to the Scandinavians of the Viking age. Perhaps, it is because of this that the band's debut album, Ultima Thulée, sounds much more related to the output of the Norwegian scene as opposed to the band's own countrymen, such as Les Légions Noires. Released through Impure Creations Records, in January 1995, this L.P. represents the high point of Vindsval's songwriting.

There is a very otherworldly quality to the music presented here. On the most basic level, this is not all that dissimilar to some of the material released by the likes of Burzum and Immortal, a couple years earlier. However, this may be even more atmospheric than the former and a little darker than the latter. The atmosphere of this record is strengthened by an extensive utilization of eerie synth melodies, though the keyboards do manage to fit in a bit more naturally than on Satyricon's Dark Medieval Times. It almost sounds influenced by the synth instrumentals found on the early Burzum and Isengard records, especially on "Rigsthula". Other than a few certain points, the music is not as repetitive as one might expect, with a lot of variation within each track. The various sections of the songs work well to take the listener on an epic journey, with a mixture of mid-paced and faster riffs, also joined together with more ethereal passages that sound like something from the first Katatonia album. Such can be more clearly heard in songs such as "The Plain of Ida" and "The Last Journey of Ringhorn". Certain ideas take quite a while to conclude, but this only works to increase the odd, dream-like quality of the album. Also nice is how there are occasions where the lead guitar is used to add depth to the music, making a wise choice to not simply add more keyboards in a situation where the guitar is better suited for the job. The vocals are rather impassioned and consist mostly of tormented screams, though maybe a bit generic considering the time period. Either way, it works very well to add to the sombre feeling of the album. There are the occasional background chants, and the track "My Prayer Beyond Ginnungagap" consists of almost nothing but clean chanting, serving as an interlude of sorts. Of course, with the cultural ties to the north, it is no surprise that all of the lyrics deal with Norse mythology.

The production is very similar to that of Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Det Som Engang Var, to an extent. One would think that this could have been recorded at Grieghallen, almost. The icy guitar tone is very thick and full, yet somehow sounds hollow at the same time. Thankfully, this is the most dominant element, with the rest kind of buried deep within the snow and ice. It is a good thing that the percussion is not any higher in the mix, as it sounds like the work of a drum machine; therefore, it is all the better to remain less noticeable in order to not ruin the atmosphere. The overall production is probably considered raw by today's standards, but it actually sounds fairly well-done and far above demo-quality.

Ultima Thulée is like a lost Norwegian black metal album, in many ways. Despite being a French band with a badly translated German name, Blut aus Nord fit in well with their neighbors to the north, at least with the likes of Burzum, Immortal and Enslaved. If you are a fan of the early works from those bands, you are well advised to check this out. This is a very solid album and much better than anything they've released since hopping on modern trends.
(18 Sept. 2012)

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