Tulus – Old Old Death Review

Another day, another black metal group. One thing I’ve found over the last few months is that there are a million different black metal acts that have been around since the 90s, operating in the underground. So while we’ve been following Bandcamp Daily articles and tracking new releases through Loudwire and Facebook, bands like Paysage d’Hiver, Veles, and Denial of God have all been quietly releasing demos and underground full-lengths to conservative praise. Now, while the jury’s still out on quality,1 you can’t help but admire the perseverance and dedication to the craft. So in 1993, while we were all giggling at “What About Bob?” and rooting for the Minnesota Twins while wearing jean jackets and reading Seventeen magazine, Norwegian black metal band Tulus began churning out some evil tunes. Three demos, one compilation, one six-year breakup and reunion, minor lineup changes, and six full-lengths later, does 2020 promise newfound fame or do they need to stay buried for another thirty years?

Tulus is total second wave black metal, with a healthy dose of thrash mixed in. Tons o’ tremolo and blackened rasps courtesy of founder Blodstrup and blast beats from cofounder Sarke, although these Norsemen also decide to toss in a healthy lower end of bass noodling from newer member Crowbel, as well as a cleaner production. Old Old Death is their sixth full-length, and it’s clear that little has changed over the course of their career, as 2020’s release sounds nearly identical to 1996’s release.2 While there is beauty in simplicity, Tulus offers a black metal platter with some tasty riffs and interesting tricks here and there, but ultimately there’s little of substance to be found.

Old Old Death‘s strength lies in its brevity. The album’s entirety lasts just over 30 minutes, and the longest tracks never breach five, so it’s reasonable for a song to revolve around a singular riff. With selections like “Jord,” “Flukt,” or “Ild til Mørkning,” this is not an issue, as they are unique enough without being grating or monotonous, and the length complements. Tracks “Folkefall” and “I Hinmannens Hånd” recall Windir or Kroda in the blend of folk melodies with blazing guitars that avoid tackiness, while opener “Hel” and blaster “Flukt” showcase impressive bass guitar flourishes (a tragically forsaken element in much of black metal). The 32-minute runtime ensures that Tulus hits you hard and fast without overstaying their welcome.

But that doesn’t mean they were welcome to begin with. Perhaps most glaring, Tulus‘ mixing is squeaky clean. While the kvltest of the kvlt deal in the raw and dense, these Norsemen prefer to let each instrument stand apart. While this is fine to show off the bass in particular, it’s an extremely thin foundation to rest a full album upon. This also applies to the vocals, which are solid and nearly deathy in their blackened rasps, but are simply too loud compared to the rest of the elements, adding to the top-heavy defectiveness of Old Old Death. Worse, some tracks are pathetically one-dimensional, such as “Grunn Grav” and “Villkjeft,” which rely on the same riff for nearly three minutes straight with no variation, feeling miserably long in spite of the album’s brevity. Thrash influence certainly injects energy into the sound, but riffs in “Hel” and “Folkefall” feel like Great-Value versions of Overkill songs, while plodding snoozer “I Havet hos Rån” feels like a halfhearted attempt at Nortt-style blackened doom. Unfortunately, even the best tracks, while undoubtedly fun, leave me asking “so what?” as this style has been done better and to greater importance by countless acts, and Tulus‘ attempts feel more like a footnote than the work of a serious contender.

These Norwegians have been making music for almost 30 years, and yet Old Old Death sounds nearly identical to the band’s 996 Pure Black Energy debut. It’s still second-wave black metal, there are still blast beats and tremolos, and there are still blackened rasps (albeit deeper this time), all with a questionable purpose. While there’s certainly beauty in simplicity, I feel neither entertained nor satisfied by Old Old Death. It’s a surprisingly clean-sounding album with some fun elements, sure, but what’s most glaring is their lack of evolution in nearly three decades.

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Soulseller Records
Websites: soulsellerrecords.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/tulusband
Releases Worldwide: March 6th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Denial of God‘s The Hallow Mass.
  2. Which has one of the cringiest covers I’ve seen in a hot minute.
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