Ereb Altor is a band I’ve reviewed more than almost any other since joining the AMG metal collective in 2010. They’re a prolific bunch and stick to a regular release schedule despite also releasing albums under the moniker Isole, and their material is consistently good if not great. Ulfven is their newest release, following 2016s Blot Ilt Taut which was a series of Bathory covers. This was appropriate as Quorthon has always been the wellspring from which the band draws their inspiration. They started life as an epic Viking metal act trying to recreate Quorthon’s genre defining Hammerheart opus, and though they’ve tweaked their sound in minor ways over time, they still sound like a mighty hammerheart beats in their chests. Ulfven is their latest attempt to fuse old school first wave black metal with epical Viking chants and hymnals, and as with most of their releases, it works more often than not with occasional moments of trve brilliance and Norse fury.
After a spoken word introduction in Swedish, “En Synd Svart Som Sot” crashes ashore with heavy mid-tempo riffing and militaristic percussion. Clean sung vocals lead the charge, approximating olden age hymns to good effect. The song has a bigger-than-life grandiose feel and it’s definitely the direct descendant of what Quorthon wrought back in the early 90s. This is Ereb Altor firing on all Viking cylinders and it makes for rabble rousing music, sounding like a heavier, more warlike Tyr. “Av Blod Ar Jag Kommen” and especially “The Rite of Kraka” delve deeper into Bathory worship with aggressive black metal raging along like Blood Fire Death era material, and though it’s always well-executed and enjoyable, this is where Ereb Altor tends to sound the least engaging to my ears.
It’s their bigger, more bombastic set pieces, complete with the clean, up-to-Valhalla chanting, that always bring the mead to the table. This element just adds something essential to the compositions, and when the band forgoes the clean singing, the music generally suffers. Fortunately, this side of the band is well-represented on cuts like “Wolfcurse,” Ulfven,” “Glepinir,” and especially the mammoth ten-minute closer “Bloodline.” The latter in particular feels like what you’d be hearing as you marched stoically over the Rainbow Bridge to greet Wotan and Thor and join their army of immortals. As it spins, you can’t help sitting up straighter and looking around for an age-old foe to test your northern steel against. This is Ereb Altor at peak badass, and “Bloodline” is a definite contender for Song o’ the Year. Sadly, they’ve always struggled to maintain this extra high level over an entire album, and such is the case here as well.
Worth noting is the above-average production and sound. Though nominally a black metal opus. Ulfven doesn’t go in for the usual crap-tastical production, offering instead a deep, fairly dynamic and warm sonic tapestry which allows the epic scope of the material to shine brightly. I especially like the snap and pop of the drums and the low-end thud on the heavier tracks.
Yours truly clearly favors the material with the epic hymns and passages, and as usual Mats does a great job with these throughout Ulfven. They sit well over the heavy riffing and especially complement the plodding, doomy passages where the music feels bigger than Techno-Jesus. He has a great tone, melodic yet rough and unpolished, and he brings a real sense of emotion and sincerity to his delivery. These clean segments make the blackened cackles and death croaks feel way more impactful whenever they join the fray and add a whole other level to the material. The guitar-work by Mats and Ragnar is solid, with some stellar riffs that convey a real sense of enormity and grandeur. There are also some truly beautiful moments, as on the closing minutes of “Bloodline.” However, when they drift too far down the old school Bathory rabbit hole, things can get a bit less engaging and overly simplistic.
As with the past few releases, Ereb Altor unveils an album with a few high-level odes to the distant past, full of emotion, power and glory, and the remainder is good but somewhat less essential. If they ever write an entire album on the same plane as “Bloodline,” Earth will enter a new Viking age and steel will be the new bitcoin. Until that fateful day, you can count on these guys to throw a helluva keg party on the burning, bloodstained shores of conquest. Hails, horns, hobbits.