Well, the cold has begun to settle in. Which means dark, frigid, unforgiving black metal will soon permeate the air of the Grier home. You can expect nothing less than the raw, primitive output of old-school Mayhem, Darkthrone, Enslaved, and Celtic Frost. It’s the right metal for the right season. The kind that you can almost feel blow through the pines as you walk over the fallen needles. The kind “Where Cold Winds Blow” “Under a Funeral Moon,” just “(Beyond the) Northern Winds.” It’s the time of the year where I find myself once again—burrowing under cottonwood leaves until the warm suns of spring arrive to dry them out. So, it’s only fitting that one of my favorite black metal vocalists is back with an October release. This time, however, Nocturno Culto ain’t here for another go-around of Darkthrone. No. Instead, Culto is back with his buddy Sarke. And with them comes Viige Urh.
And with Viige Urh comes a depth and adventurousness not seen since their debut. Tagged as a black/thrash outfit from the start, Sarke have always used their “thrashiness” to add flavor to their signature Darkthrone-meets-Celtic Frost riffage. The better moments of this combination living with the back-to-back releases, Vorunah and Oldarhian. Though the second disc expanded a bit on the style, both are solid black metal releases that find Culto’s ability to diversify (if only slightly) kinda impressive. But, after Aruagint‘s large drop in quality, the band has been working to ascend up to its debut days. Last year’s Bogefod was an improvement, but it was still sparse and suffered from fillers. Now, Viige Urh is here, and it hopes to raise the bar.
And, in many ways, it does. Bogefod introduced female cleans to the band’s repertoire in 2016, but Viige Urh takes it further with “Jutul.” This mid-album surprise makes me wish I had taken that chance on a drunken bet that Culto would never sing a beauty-and-the-beast duet. I know what you’re thinking: “Omfg, stop.” Chill, dude. It turns out “Jutul” is one of the better tracks on the album. Not only does the outstanding Lena Fløitmoen (from Trond Holter‘s Dracula: Swing of Death)1 tailor her stylistic beauty to the harshness of Culto, but the heavy Celtic Frost/Triptykon-like chugs compliment their vocals. And, in a different way, closer “Evolution and Fate” pumps out similar levels of emotion to the album’s bitter end. Though opener “Viige Urh” uses a great deal of synthy atmospheres, the thick keys of the closer sink the deepest. It doesn’t sound like anything new but, in combination with the soaring guitars, there’s head-turning a-plenty.
Speaking of powerful guitar leads/solos, there is no shortage of them on songs like “Dagger Entombed” and “Age of Sail.” The latter may suffer from some goofy lyrics, but the guitar-work is some of the best on the disc. But, while “Age of Sail” uses opening guitar solos and psychedelic, mid-album guitar play, “Dagger Entombed” and “Knifehall” use the guitar for bloodthirsty, black/thrash pummelings. The former layers its riffs with classic Celtic Frost horns while the latter charges along with an almost Unleashed-like aggressiveness. Both are straightforward and savage, with an agenda to get your blackened heads bobbing.
That said, the opening title track, “Upir,” and “Punishment to Confessions” are pretty standard black metal affairs. The latter’s lack of flair, in particular, is a real shame because of the nifty Enslaved-meets-Celtic Frost guitar work that inhabits its halls. But, let me be clear, none of these tracks are shit. They don’t help to propel the album to great heights. “Viige Urh” certainly has the umph to get things rolling, but it’s typical for the band (and the rest of the scene). “Upir” has some balls but, in the end, it suffers from the same fate as the title track. And “Punishment to Confessions” drones about with Celtic Frost/Triptykon vibes that go nowhere—its lyrics and vocals doing nothing to help.
When you step back and compare Viige Urh to the band’s other material, it’s a solid album with a fair share of highlights. “Jutul,” in particular, is an outstanding song that could make my year-end list. If nothing else but for its uniqueness. In the end, this new release is an improvement to Aruagint and a fine mate to Bogefod. And fans of all-things-Culto should enjoy it.