Urgehal was one of the younger bands, emerging onto the scene after
the Norwegian black metal sound had been firmly established by such well-known antecedents as Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum.
As with many others that began around this period, their roots went no deeper than their immediate predecessors, lacking the
rich tapestry of influences that helped give birth to the aforementioned acts, as well as the likes of Emperor, Dissection
or Immortal. Their first demo, Ferd, may seem rather one-dimensional but it is the best thing the band ever recorded.
Released in December 1994, this offering is highly derivative of another
piece of music that first saw the light of day in this cursed year. Of course, the album in question is Darkthrone's masterpiece,
Transilvanian Hunger, which was clearly a very important record for the guys in Urgehal. That this album had a significant
influence upon this band is absolutely transparent. One could say that Ferd is little more than four tracks, a total
of seventeen minutes, of pure Darkthrone worship. In fact, they managed to jump on this 'bandwagon' very early, even beating
to the punch such bands as Judas Iscariot and Russia's Branikald.
Ferd features very minimalist compositions, owing a great deal
to Transilvanian Hunger. Each of the four songs consist of a few really haunting tremolo melodies, similar and yet
distinct from one another. The style is very repetitive, with little to no variation in the drumming, as well as the uniform
picking technique that is utilized. The entire recording maintains a singular pace. All of these elements combine to create
a rather hypnotic effect. The vocals are somewhat buried in the mix, leaving the mournful guitar riffs as the main point of
focus. The atmosphere is one of impenetrable gloom and hopelessness, with some moments of "Den som jakter i natten" hearkening
to Burzum's "Det som en gang var". The latter melody of "Din ofrelse" is reminiscent of Darkthrone's "Slottet i det fjerne",
attempting a very similar sort of build. Like those two bands, Urgehal also chose to go with Norwegian lyrics and song titles,
though it hardly matters as the vocals do not figure into things in a significant way.
Despite maintaining what most would call a fast pace throughout this
demo, Urgehal display a total lack of intensity. Of course, a somewhat weak sound could result from the production as, after
all, it is just a demo tape; however, Ferd has about the same sound quality as Gorgoroth's A Sorcery Written in
Blood, and one would never make the mistake of claiming that as a recording that lacked intensity and conviction. The
lifeless feeling may very well result from the actual songwriting, as the guitar melodies seem rather similar to those on
Branikald's Varg fjerne a tornet and The Cold Earth Slept Below..., by Judas Iscariot. That said, this is not
a criticism of Urgehal, but just an observation. The songwriting, playing style and production all serve to beget an overwhelmingly
dreary and morose feeling. The monotony of this demo never becomes tedious or boring, something that cannot be said of the
more varied songwriting of the unimpressive full-lengths that followed. While Ferd does lack the bitter cold feeling
of those albums that inspired it, Urgehal's debut offering is well worth listening to.
(14 July 2016)
By 1997, the Norwegian black metal scene had developed into something
quite far removed from its roots, in many cases. The true Mayhem was dead and gone. The quality of Darkthrone's releases had
dropped significantly, and they remained silent for a few years. Gorgoroth began to experiment and to ruin their sound. Emperor
had fully embraced the symphonic elements and abandoned the actual black metal core that they once possessed. Burzum was reduced
to an ambient keyboard project and even Enslaved turned into something weak and unappealing. Countless other bands began to
pop up, often ripping off those that came before, with a vast majority of them going the symphonic route. Too few in Norway
remembered what black metal was supposed to be about. It was into this horrible musical landscape that the first Urgehal full-length,
Arma Christi, was released.
On this particular album, Urgehal offered up very solid and consistent black metal
in the northern style. Unfortunately for them, they never became as well-known as many of their Norwegian peers. A lot of
it comes down to timing. Had this record come out in 1992 or 1993, it would have been seen as revolutionary. But that's just
the thing; the band was clearly following the lead of those that came before. Of this there is no doubt. Still, they came
along too late to even earn a place among the second-tier bands like Gorgoroth and Satyricon. They could have made up for
this, to some extent, by upping the ante in a sense and doing something unique and truly memorable within the framework established
by the forerunners of this style. However, the material on Arma Christi is a little too safe and predictable. That
being said, this is not really a bad thing. There are several good guitar melodies, particularly in "Conjuring the Hordes
of Blasphemy", and only one or two boring songs. Most of the album is fast-paced and keeps up the traditions of the Norwegian
approach. One can hear a good amount of Darkthrone influence, as well as a bit of Celtic Frost. As I have said with several
other albums, I am fairly certain that this element is less derived from Morbid Tales itself and more likely filtered
through Darkthrone's interpretation of Tom Warrior's brainchild. That is not to say that this is purely a rip-off band or
that the songwriting is bad. This is probably one of the better albums to come from Norway around this time. Still, as solid
as it is, one cannot help but feel that it is missing something.
One severe problem is the production. Poor production
is rarely an issue with black metal, as a raw and lo-fi sound has gone hand in hand with this sub-genre since the very beginning,
with varying degrees of grimness. However, Urgehal's debut L.P. sounds shoddy but not in the right way. The mix is flat and
kind of lifeless, rather than being raw and possessing a sharp edge. The guitars and dull, the drumming could be slightly
lower and the vocals fail to stand out all that well. The occasional tremolo melody cuts through the muddy sound and begins
to seep into your mind, such as in "The Night Armageddon Comes", but these moments are too rare throughout the album. All
in all, I would still take this kind of production over the lousy sound of Gorgoroth's Destroyer, for example, but
this comes off as kind of boring and uneventful in a similar way to Darkthrone's Total Death. Ultimately, the poor
sound lessens the impact of this material and does not do the compositions justice.
Nevertheless, everything about
this album is rather average and gives you the feeling that you've heard it before, and better. From the flat production to
the predictable and often mundane songwriting, there is nothing about this L.P. that really grabs you and demands your attention.
It has its moments, definitely, but these just are not as frequent or as strong as they should be. The mid-paced attempts
at sounding old school are pretty boring, but the faster songs makes up for it. Urgehal's first effort is only praiseworthy
by comparing it to the horrid filth that their peers were releasing at the time, as they were at least sticking true to the
style. Arma Christi is solid and even enjoyable at times, but it is your standard, run-of-the-mill Norwegian black
metal and comes off as a rather generic representation of this scene. It is neither great nor terrible, just kind of there.
For those that are looking for a straightforward album in this style, without all of the unnecessary elements that were becoming
commonplace around this time, this is certainly worth listening to.
(25 Apr. 2013)
Urgehal's first album was nothing special, though it was solid enough
that I ended up giving their second album a chance. This was mostly in assuming that, since they showed a solid foundation
in the Norwegian black metal style, perhaps their sophomore effort would show more creativity and move away from the generic
approach of Arma Christi. Released in 1998, Massive Terrestrial Strike proved to be even more disappointing
than its predecessor.
Their debut was plagued by a very flat production that was neither particularly good nor raw
enough to really possess a dark and underground feeling. The second time around, the production is even worse and sounds more
modern and too clean, at times. The drums, for example, should never be this clear and high in the mix. That is not just a
rule for black metal, but for any sort of metal. This is not some street urchin's jungle music and should not place any real
emphasis on the percussion in a way that detracts from the guitar melodies. As well, the vocals and bass are too high and
sort of disconnected from the rest in a way.
As for the material itself, the opening track was enough to make me consider
not finishing the album, the first time I listened to it. The intro section and a lot of the vocal choices were very off-putting
and became irritating in short order. Songs like "The Saturnine Denomination" show that Urgehal had no intentions of straying
from their generic roots and adding any sense of their own identity into the mix. The only deviations from the established
norm prove to be so out of place that they ruin what little atmosphere that the band managed to create, which is not much.
What one can find here are tenth-rate Darkthrone riffs combined with subpar Celtic Frost imitation. One might at least give
them some credit for playing a more straightforward style of black metal when many of their peers were experimenting with
various alien elements or going toward a purely symphonic route. However, I cannot give this mediocre record a pass just because
it isn't as bad as it could have been. The fact is that, if the members of Urgehal had put forth a little more effort, they
could have simultaneously upheld the old traditions while also putting forth some ideas to separate themselves from the rest.
The only real reason that this stands out from the likes of Darkthrone and Gorgoroth is because it is not nearly as good as
even the worst efforts from those bands.
Massive Terrestrial Strike is another useless album from a band that
never did anything worth mentioning. It is true, 1998 was a very dismal year for black metal and, outside of demos and some
mini-albums, is Cerná Krev, from Maniac Butcher, may be one of the only full-lengths worth hearing, along with Horna's
Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua. Both are superior to Urgehal's second album in all ways, even better at ripping off Darkthrone
riffs while still carving out an identity of their own while doing so. This L.P. simply goes to prove that, for the most part,
the dark magic of the past had left Norway by this time. Avoid this.
(2 May 2013)