Ungfell – Es grauet Review

Ungfell launched into life with 2017’s Tôtbringære, an album displaying a singular blend of weird atmospheres with melodic black metal. 2018’s Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz developed this a little but stalled on the potential of the debut, failing to balance the punchy atmosphere with punchy music. A longer gap to write and more time for the music to stew boded well for their sequel, entitled Es grauet (It Is Dreadful) and I was keen to hear how they had progressed. Above all else, their themes and atmosphere are prized by the band but I wanted to hear music to match.

So let’s begin there with the record’s story. While I struggle to discern a particular narrative, the overall images and themes are distinct. The opener “Es grauet überm Dorf”1 leads with a cockerel crowing and birds tweeting, painting a rural, quaint scene. It progresses through period drama territory as voices babble and horses trot over cobbled ground. All sounds like a Swiss market town in the 18th century overlooked by a towering castle. “Tyfels Antlitz” uses distant acoustic guitar, ominous cello and jingling bells to evoke the castle’s dungeons and “S Chnochelied” encourages this image as electronic effects, dripping water and the distant barks of the deranged detail a dark evil lurking beneath the visage of this picturesque location. I hear vaulted ceilings, perverse balls and torturous dungeons. Ungfell are impressively atmospheric and deserve commendation for this.

Given that black metal is one of the more atmospheric metallic sub-genres, it should not come as a surprise that the core music falls into this bucket. “Es grauet überm Dorf” opens with a decent lead and demarcates a strong sense of melody across the record. It’s blasting but is more curious than dangerous, layering acoustic guitars and xylophones over the melodies played on the electric guitars. Meanwhile, “D Schwarzamslä” uses a cooler, noodlier lead and “S Chnochelied” directly ties Es grauet to the Scandinavian development of the sound, matching icy melodies with its characteristic atmosphere. But Ungell are quite unique, blending the “traditionalist” (read: “entirely the same as it was 30 years ago”) approach to black metal with a strong sense of place and diverse instrumentation. Layers of acoustic guitar, strings and bells, and appropriately unhinged vocals, build Es grauet into something more than the typical.

And yet, despite the distinctive tone and atmosphere, I find the music far less engaging than it should be. The melodies and riffs lack the hooks and overall memorability required to drag me in for elongated listening sessions. It has all the mood and instrumentation in the world but lacks the riffs; ie it’s the exemplification of style over substance. Once I reach the third minute of blackened blasting which lacks proper hooks I find myself disengaged in the meandering song-writing. Your ear will initially be caught by Ungfell’s interesting sound but it will be lost again over the course of one of the longer tracks. It’s a difficult record to truly enjoy as it’s both interesting and uninteresting over different durations of time. Further, I enjoy the record’s atmosphere and dynamism but there are too many interludes disturbing its momentum. “Stossgebätt” is the worst offender, failing to offer a new tone or image while rumbling on for over 3 minutes.

Ungfell have still failed to execute on the promise of their exciting debut. Es grauet is more preoccupied with its image than the music which is backwards. Without strong music to support their story, Ungfell will always be a “nearly” band. There is plenty of cool stuff here but it lacks substance to back it all up. The likes of Vainaja show that there is a way to unify distinct, creepy, backwater stories with excellent metal, but that is still not the case here, where the music only goes as far as ‘okay.’

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Eisenwald
Websites: ungfell.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ungfell
Releases worldwide: April 30th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. The song titles are confusing, partially because some words are impossible to translate (are such words names? Titles? Locations?) and partially because they are long, I will simplify them for the purposes of description.
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