Ulvik – Last Rites | Dire Omens review

Last Rites | Serious omens. Interesting album title, that. The final rites indicate mourning and gentle acceptance, while somber omens indicate malevolence, a promise of death yet to come. Likely by design, these contrasting themes apply directly to the brand of neofolk and atmospheric black metal that the Canadian duo has Ulvik paddles, while the sad beauty of their folk music inevitably succumbs to a more pronounced black metal malevolence. Sourced from the endless pine trees of Canada’s westernmost region, British Columbia, Ulvik invites you to immerse yourself in their rural melancholy with their fourth opus, Last Rites | Serious omens.

Ulvik‘s atmospheric black/folk manifests itself in ways both familiar and unfamiliar to the genre. The implementation of acoustic guitars and strings is reminiscent of bands like Nechochwen And Panopticonwhile the emotional tone wouldn’t be out of place next to the prairie doom-isms of Altars of sorrow. The metal, on the other hand, challenges the atmoblack label. Opener ‘Through False Dust’ may initially give the impression of a traditionally atmospheric approach with distant, chilly tremolos, but the guitars quickly take on an uncharacteristic urgency as the album progresses. Last rites | Serious omens will not allow you to descend into pleasant lethargy, as might be the case elsewhere; Many of the album’s deep, sometimes almost chugging riffs have a blunt force that demands your attention, while the singer’s emotional cries and all the wailing layers of guitars veer more into post-black metal territory. But while I usually associate emotions like sadness or sadness with the peaks of typical post-black metal, when Ulvik is heaviest in a song like “Sown on Earth”, all I hear is anger.

A lot of what works Last Rites | Serious omens lies in the simple appeal of Ulvik‘s soundscape. Within the larger pantheon of folky atmospheric black bands, Ulvik‘s folk elements are some of the best I’ve heard. They bring the album’s somber atmosphere to life while underscoring it with beauty; the heavier songs open with densely layered strings that have real grit, while the acoustic guitars are softer and offer a comforting reprieve. The acoustic intermezzos, which could have simply been unremarkable, become real album highlights Ulvik‘s hands. This evocative, expressive dark folk fits nicely with the bluntness of the metal and serves as an effective counterpoint to the subtleties of the folk. After the gradual build-up of wretched strings and anguished spoken words in “Sown on Earth,” the aforementioned anger in the song’s crushing verse cuts all the deeper. That same bluntness initially made the eight-minute “Glass & Scythe” feel dull, but I’ve come to love the variations on a theme on a simple, satisfying motif, because in this simplicity is an emotional clarity that can shine through.

For most of the album’s duration, few issues stood out as terribly devastating. The folk instruments are sorely missed in the repetitive avant-garde dissonance of “Life & Death Are One”, and the first intermezzo, “Woven Into Threads”, is placed too early as the third track, but nevertheless the album was overall an easy recommend. The emphasis was on the fact that the closing duo of songs changed things for the worse. “The Pallid Mask” echoes the increasing violence of the spoken words from “Sown on Earth,” but the speaker’s powerful delivery isn’t as believable and the song creeps toward an insultingly short payoff that’s negligible by comparison. “Yesterday & Years Ago” has a more concrete, satisfying melancholy, but it meanders toothlessly into far too long spoken words without ever getting on the right track. Perhaps these songs wouldn’t be so offensive if they were spread out, but together they end the album on an extremely dour note that I’ve come to avoid altogether on repeat listens. Each song builds to a resolution that either disappoints or never arrives, robbing the album as a whole of the resolution it deserved.

Maybe the final word on this album isn’t as positive as I would like, but I’m glad I found it Ulvik. There’s a lot to like about the evocative dark folk and the emotionally charged atmoblack Ulvik brings to the table, and there are plenty of moments in it Last Rites | Serious omens that show why Ulvik it’s worth it if this kind of music appeals to you like it does to me. What a shame that this album stumbles so hard at the finish line. There is a differently organized or edited version of this album that I would have liked to have rated higher, but when an album ends with consecutive songs that miss the mark so completely, it can’t be ignored.

Judgement: Mixed
DR: 8 | Format assessed: 320kbps
Label: Avant-garde music
Websites: bandcamp | Facebook
Released worldwide: May 24, 2024