Sometimes the best split releases are those that juxtapose differing musical styles of the participating bands while finding common ground between them in sometimes unexpected ways — and the new split by Scotland’s Haar and Australia’s Ur Draugr is one of those. It was released on October 7 by ATMF and it includes three songs by Haar and a single 20-minute monolith by Ur Draugr. I’ll share some thoughts about each side separately, along with a conclusion about the powerful combined effect of the split’s complete experience, and a stream of all the music.
Following the appearance of two well-received EPs in 2010 and 2012, Haar released their hour-long debut album (also through ATMF), The Wayward Ceremony, in 2015. We premiered a full stream of the album in May of that year, along with a review in which I wrote:
“If you had to force the album into a genre category, I suppose black metal would be the name of the game, but the album resists simple classification. Atmospherically, it is unquestionably dark and threatening, casting an aura of horrors hidden in the shadows and the relentless approach of an all-consuming hunger. And there are bursts of ravaging black metal aggression, complete with blasting drums and raking/jabbing riffs….
“Yet the music is mainly mid-paced, and even dirge-like at the end, and it’s as intricate and ‘progressive’ as it is bleak and savage. The drumwork is unusually inventive and varied, and the guitars spin out one mind-warping slice of thorned tracery after another, with an emphasis on otherworldly dissonance.”
Haar have now followed The Wayward Ceremony with the three songs on this split — “Extinction”, “Strings”, and “Architects” — through which the band “explore the concept of Sehnsucht, the almost pathological yearning the human psyche has for faith, to believe in some sort of supernatural essence or meaning, to find significance or resonance amidst the chaos of mundane existence.”
“Extinction” grows in intensity, first slowly building an ominous, dismal atmosphere with dissonant riffs and notes and a gripping bass and drum performance, and then steadily becoming more unsettling and nightmarish until it reaches a boiling point, with a finale that’s almost majestic in the scale of its grim aura. A vital ingredient in the music’s unnerving effect are the vocals, which range from cracked, bestial roars to chilling goblin snarls and searing, tortured shrieks.
The clarity of Haar’s production is another vital ingredient — it allows a discerning appreciation of the intricate instrumental work in the follow-on song “Strings”. Mid-paced, heavy, and dissonant at the beginning, it’s like a building storm, ratcheting the tension until the storm breaks at 2:45 in a torrent of blasting drums and swarming riffs, followed by a frenzy of head-twisting instrumental athleticism. When the storm has spent itself, the band fall back into their excursion into a vision of mental imbalance, with the vocals rising and falling in heightened paroxysms of agony and fury.
The dynamism evident in the first two tracks is also on display in the final track, “Architects”, which again starts slowly, accented by alien guitar work, a forlorn bass line, and excruciating shrieks. The guitar begins to boil, forming the prelude to an eruption of venomous savagery, with thundering drums and slashing guitars in the vanguard. As the frenzy subsides, the song becomes more esoteric, ominous, and infernal, generating an aura of threatening madness and ending in an eerie ambient passage with wisps of haunting melody behind an abrasion of sound.
Like Haar, Ur Draugr preceded this split with a 2015 debut album — With Hunger Undying — which itself followed an excellent debut EP named The Wretched Ascetic (reviewed here). Also like Haar, you have to stitch a lot of genre terms together to come close to what Ur Draugr have been doing with their music — black metal, death metal, progressive metal, avant garde, and more. It has been consistently distinctive and imaginative — and consistently black as night and heavy as hell.
“The Vista Profunda” is the name of Ur Draugr’s lone long track, and it’s an exuberant instrumental tour de force, so technically accomplished, so varied, and so unpredictably inventive that the minutes fly by. Yet the song has a haunting, alien, and even chilling atmosphere that persists despite the mind-bending magnetism of its many variations. I caught myself at times thinking of a more blackened and esoteric version of Gorguts or Dysrhythmia.
In crafting this ambitious track, Ur Draugr was apparently inspired by the philosophical traditions of Baudrillard and Nietzsche, Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle, and Robert Chambers’ “The King in Yellow”. The music veers with little warning between slow and soft, and utterly manic. Something like the sound of distant wind and strange ambient noises set the stage, soon joined by a propulsive drum progression and then bursts of double-bass and a rapidly skittering riff, with gruesome roars that turn to inflamed clean vocals. As the drumming becomes increasingly frenzied, an alien lead guitar appears — to reappear again later.
More clean vocals make an appearance, gliding and lifting like shimmering northern lights above the electrifying instrumental fireworks display, eventually turning to harrowing shrieks as the music continues to boil and surge.
The first of several breaks appears at about 6:30, the music subsiding into a slow ambient drift over an inventive bit of syncopated drumming, with eerie tinkling tones accenting the ambience, which is both spectral and cosmic. And then the music begins to build again as the other instruments return, becoming both more sweeping and even more unsettling. Yet another, even more extended, break occurs at about 9:45, with a return of chilling ambience and a slow, haunting piano melody. It’s a mesmerizing interlude — with the spell abruptly broken by an explosion of shrieks and roars, thundering drums and seething guitar. As it surges in bursts of guitar and percussion, it begins to resemble something like a wild carnival dance.
The intensity continues to build as truly titanic drum pounding and grim riffing leads to another crescendo, all the performers vaulting into flurries of instrumental exuberance, with a high, slithering guitar melody moving like a snake through the crashing wreckage of an earthquake.
One final unexpected break comes near the end, with a brief acoustic guitar solo — just a quick breath before the band return with a jabbing, jolting, kaleidoscopic burst of instrumental acrobatics, one that’s held together by a complex but compelling drum pattern.
When the song came to an end after my first time through it, I caught myself staring at nothing, wide-eyed in wonder. The first thing I did next was listen to it again.
If you’ve managed to make your way through that great mass of words I spilled above, you may have an inkling of why I began this review in the way I did. There are significant contrasts between the music of Haar and Ur Draugr as displayed on this split, yet there is also common ground, and the result is a total listening experience that’s thoroughly engrossing. In my view, it’s also the best work that either band have done yet, and one of the year’s most impressive releases.
Haar’s songs are deeply unsettling and unnerving, more dark, dismal, and ominous than Ur Draugr’s strange and electrifying trip. Yet both bands are technically very impressive, and imaginative in the ways they have harnessed their instrumental prowess. Neither of them follow straight, predictable lines. Neither of them feel constrained by any conventional genre boundaries. Both of them are driven to explore dark corners of the mind and of the emotional spectrum, and they’re so good at what they’re doing that I hope you’ll want to follow them — now, and in the future.
The spit features cover art by Romania’s Costin Chioreanu, and it’s available at these locations: