This is the first of three EP reviews that I plan to post today. The EPs are all very different from each other, but they’re all very good.
I have a feeling that metal fans have lost a real gem, but the significant fragment that remains still gleams brightly.
Ur Draugr are from Perth in Western Australia and the band’s ranks include past or present members of Impiety, Wardaemonic, DeathFuckingCunt, and Morphica. When I first wrote about the band last November (here), it was in connection with their release of an impressive new song named “Unseen Golgotha”.
At that point, I reported that they had recorded a debut album entitled Augur Unboden that was projected for release in December, and “Unseen Golgotha” would be part of that album. But at the beginning of this year the band revealed that as a result of “a catastrophic hardware failure — in which multiple hard-drives, including backups, were effectively destroyed in early December,” the forthcoming album had been postponed indefinitely. They salvaged two more tracks in addition to “Unseen Golgotha” and decided to release those three songs via Bandcamp under the title The Wretched Ascetic.
It seems unlikely that any of the other songs recorded for Augur Unboden will ever be released. They could be re-recorded, but the band have stated that they intend to turn the page and move on to the writing of new songs that will be included in a new full-length to be released (ideally) at some later point in 2015. I can’t help but mourn the loss of those songs, because the three that have survived are superb.
“Unseen Golgotha” opens the EP. I’m still quite taken with the slow, wistful acoustic introduction and would still be content to let that lull me into an extended revery — but what comes next is even more transfixing: a shape-shifting cascade of melancholy melody, hailstorm riffs, acrobatic drumming, and impassioned vocal malevolence. Drawing from strands of both death metal and black metal, the music is an engrossing journey across a changing soundscape. I’ve listened to the song a lot since first hearing it last November, and it’s still very impressive.
While “Unseen Golgotha” tips the scales at almost seven minutes, the EP’s title track extends the reach of the band’s spell-casting to more than ten minutes. It’s an eruption right from the beginning, but the driving drumbeat and slashing riffs become increasingly unpredictable as the song moves on, and are then replaced altogether by a much softer instrumental session with a clean guitar solo that borrows from both progressive music and jazz.
When the howling storm resumes, the instrumental music continues to move in jagged, unpredictable ways, from start-stop bursts to heavy-grooved stomps to four-on-the-floor rocking to machine-gun strafing to frenzied whirlwinds of noise to droning feedback punctuated by isolated bass notes. And through almost all the instrumental variation, the vocalist howls, roars, and shrieks like a monster.
The final track, a slow, dark, three-minute instrumental piece called “Sombre Moribund”, begins seamlessly as “The Wretched Ascetic” ends, and carries this unusual EP to the end with acoustic guitar strumming and picking. The atmosphere is indeed sombre and desolate, and made more so by the sound of cold wind and strange electronic sounds in the background.
Trying to sum up the music in conventional genre terms is a challenge. It combines elements of black, death, progressive, and avant-garde metal in creative ways. I can’t help but wish I had heard everything that Ur Draugr recorded for the album, but these three surviving songs by themselves make for a fascinating listening experience.
Apart from the music, Jeff Christensen really did an amazing job creating artwork for what was to be the Augur Unboden album, and fortunately the band have decided to use it for this new EP. Selfishly, I hope this will get a physical release so that I can get my hands on a booklet that includes the pieces you see in this review.
Stream the music below; it’s now available as a “name your own price” offering via the Bandcamp link below.