Review: Ungfell – Tôtbringære

Let’s go deep underground. Ungfell is a two man Swiss outfit who first garnered some attention when they passed around an interesting little demo that contained prototypical black metal featuring an accordion (amongst other unorthodox instrumentation as well). That in itself is certainly attention grabbing to the say the very least. Yet even without all the instrument gimmickry, the demo itself was also littered with a number of intriguing riffs in its own right, and Ungfell built themselves quite a small but dedicated little following among those who heard it. Now two years later they’re back with their full-length debut entitled Tôtbringære [God bless you! -Dave. Why thank you! -Alex].

Before I go any further, the astute listener will quickly point out that at its core, Tôtbringære sounds a lot like Peste Noire worship coupled with early Burzum, and he or she would not be far off of the mark. However, what makes this record particularly noteworthy is the way in which both guitarist, lead vocalist, and apparently accordionist Menetekel and guest drummer Infermità go about it.

Like the demo, Menetekel’s riff craft draws you in immediately, constructing simple but hypnotic riffs on top of a very Pestian sounding blackened punk underbelly. For example, tracks like “Die Bleiche Göttin,” and its follow up, “Gottes Acker,” both begin in a hailstorm of blast and buzz before segueing into this very catchy punkish chug that carries you the rest of the way home. Again, Menetekel adopts a sorta of hack-and-slash rhythm section that although offers one infectious riff after the next does so in a somewhat obtuse way. It makes for both an extremely intriguing listening experience, with you wanting to go back and immediately replay each track to make sure you caught all the little rhythmic subtleties contained within.

“Trommier Tod” on the other hand is straight out of the Burzum playbook, using repetition and drone to drill in its sinister point home. An obligatory breakdown hits you at about three minute mark that is both Grade-A horn raising fun and really pushes this track over the top. The same is true for the track “Wechselbalg,” which could have come straight off of Filosofem and features the best use of an ukulele I’ve heard in years. It’s follow up, “Slahtære,” is a different animal altogether, offering up a folky acoustic interlude that acts as a brief reprieve before the record’s extremely atmospheric finale. I found that once everything was said and done, I immediately wanted to do it all over again (and still do); there is just so much variation and sonic intrigue packed in each track that one listen is simply not enough to fully absorb what Tôtbringære has to offer.

But despite Tôtbringære’s strong execution, what I found even more compelling was its sense of atmosphere, which is just downright creepy. It mainly comes in the form of strange intra-song samples of various, seemingly random Germanic voices interspersed with what I can only assume are sounds taken from a Satanic marsh. There’s even a few random church bells and sounds of a baby crying put in for good measure. These little atmospheric sprinklings make for the perfect veneer on an already well conceived product, imbuing Tôtbringære with a very convincingly menacing vibe throughout.

I would also be bereft to not point out just how stellar Menetekel’s vocals are, and to a certain extent are a highlight in their own right. Between his agonizing primal screams to his raspy singing voice to his even clean folky chants, he is definitely the focal point of the entire album. And the mix does a superb job of always putting him front in center yet slightly above the sonic maelstrom that always in swirls him. Moreover, the master itself is not hypercompressed yet stills retains all that glorious lo-fi rawness that one would expect from an underground release of this ilk. My only major complaint is with the drums, whose recording was clearly overseen by Fenriz with the help of a Playskool mic. But still, Menetekel’s bass certainly sounds meaty, and all the intra-song sampling is as I said, pulled off with such aplomb it’s really hard to be that upset with the record’s overall sound. Bottom line, Tôtbringære is a production win in my book.

So far 2017 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for black metal, with the number of albums that have caught my intention I can count on one hand. However, those that have stood out have really stood out, and Ungfell’s stunning debut may in fact be so far this year’s finest. It’s certainly my favorite.

Dynamic Range