I listen to a lot of new black metal every week. As most serious metal lovers are well aware, the genre has become remarkably diverse, so much so that I’d venture to say that it now encompasses more variety than any of the other well-recognized genres of extreme music — which is one reason I listen to a lot of black metal every week. Some branchings of this immense, gnarled, and thorny tree have gone off in experimental directions; others have twisted back down into the roots, intertwining with them to the point that the new growth is indistinguishable from the old.
The debut EP Hail Death by the Polish black metal band UR isn’t experimental, or mind-bendingly intricate. It honors certain aspects of the genre’s roots, yet it’s also not a re-tread of the dominant forms of the second wave. But among all the varied branchings of black metal that I’ve explored this year, it has proven to be one of the most enjoyable. I’ll explain why — but I wouldn’t blame you if you chose to skip past my verbiage immediately and jump straight to the player at the end of this post, where you can launch a full stream of the EP in advance of its December 15 release by Arachophobia Records.
UR may be a new band, but its members aren’t newcomers, having applied their talents in other bands such as Bloodthirst or Bloodstained. And their experience shows in how well-written these six songs are. They have a visceral, primal appeal — all of them displaying the kind of melodic hooks and infectious rhythms that get your head moving and that make them highly addictive, while also channeling the kind of ferocity that’s a hallmark of the genre.
There’s a layer of abrasion on the sound of the guitars, but the music is produced in a way that gives it clarity and separation in the mix, without detracting from the music’s ability to connect powerfully with the reptile part of your brain. UR have also avoided overstaying their welcome. They seem to realize that less is often more: The songs are relatively short, compact affairs — and yet they’re also dynamic, with vibrant changes both within individual songs and from song to song.
You get an immediate taste of UR’s strategies in the opening track, “A Dying Star”. The song has a bleak atmosphere, but it sets the hook in your head almost from the very beginning, and it also introduces the listener to the propulsive, booming power of the rhythm section, which shines throughout the EP. The song also introduces you to the variety and vibrancy of the vocal expressions you’ll encounter on the EP — ranging from near-chanted clean vocals to inflamed, abrasive snarls, from wrenching yells to vicious, tyrannical proclamations.
“The Tongue of Fire” is fierce and chaotic but — again — very catchy. It moves between urgent, rapidly jabbing riffs anchored by galloping rhythms to a kind of punk-influenced beat (which reappears elsewhere on the EP), with a slithering lead guitar that worms its way into the brain.
Blast-beat pummeling and seething tremolo guitars launch “Let the Darkness Come”, but the song divides its time between those assaults of savagery and a slower, lurching rhythm, laced with an eerie, morbid melody.
“Total Inertia” changes things up again with a slow, grim, mournful melody and a big, methodically jabbing riff before the music surges with driving, warlike power. The head-hammering snare beats and tumbling tom progressions help give the song a jolting energy, but the clean vocal melodies are also quite memorable.
“Total Inertia” moves seamlessly into “Only Bones Stay Here”, a song in which there’s a classic heavy metal and rock feel to the chords that UR interweave among bursts of thundering percussion and seething tremolo riffs.
But UR may have saved the most irresistibly headbangable track to the end, because “Infinity” is hellishly infectious as well as barbaric. It includes vicious jabbing as well as punk-like rhythms, and when the pace slows, the vocals and the melody give the music a pronounced occult atmosphere before UR ramp up the voltage for the finale.
In a nutshell, the EP has had me in its grip since the first time I heard it, and I hope it will have the same effect on you. It’s yet another late-year surprise, and a very, very good one.
As noted, Hail Death will be released by Arachnophobia Records on December 15. The EP was recorded and mixed at Left Hand Sounds studio by Marcin Rybicki (In Twilight’s Embrace, Bloodthirst), and the cover art was painted by Krzysztof Sikorski. For more info about the EP and how to get it, check these links: