2017 saw the release of the début full-length by Switzerland’s unusual, folksy black metal band called Ungfell. I was introduced by the ever-insightful Alex at Metal-Fi who held it up as one of his best of the year. While Tôtbringære was only just shy of real greatness and probably deserved a nice write-up, I never put pen to paper. Scarcely a year later and I’ve resolved to rectify this deficiency by reviewing their sophomore album called Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz. Does it stack up?
Ungfell boast a singularly weird approach to black metal, balancing an icy, blasting attack, moody breathers, and swinging, folksy instrumentation. The closest comparison is Peste Noire for the blackened parts which occupy the largest slice of this aural gateau. The guitar tones and melodic structures are quite similar, though the playing is faster, more furious and less harmonious. Nothing can be taken from these more savage moments as they brandish vicious, scything riffs which saw through the listener’s consciousness. Such great moments litter Mythen. “Die Heidenburg” opens with a particularly strong riff and uses slick transitions between the same melody played on an acoustic, rather than electric, guitar. Sliding in and out of the two makes for the coolest individual passage on the record. The back half of “De Türst und s Wüetisheer” shifts between neat riffs of varying tempos with a touch of the epic, while sporting a surprising melodic complexity. This trait becomes more apparent on repeated listens as the guitar lines seem to dart haphazardly but successfully embed in your memory nonetheless.
The aforementioned atmospheric interludes and folksier passages ensure that Mythen contains some of the more dynamic black metal you’ll hear short of fully integrating progressive or post-rock influences. Acoustic guitars, synthesizers and almost medieval instrumentation confer a terrifically evocative atmosphere. I clearly visualize a spooky, medieval castle in the calm but creeping ambient effects, such as creaking floorboards and distant cackles, while the bell and accordion-led swing evokes dreamy memories of festivities in times long past, echoing around lonely halls. These images are oddly specific but this goes some way to demonstrate that the atmospheric passages are engaging and well-executed. “Oberlandmystik,” “De Fluech vom Toggeli” and “Guggisberglied” are explicitly such interludes but they’re also integrated into the principle tracks such as on “Die Hexenbrut zu Nirgendheim.” I don’t want to overstate the medieval nature of Mythen as it is primarily black metal (it’s certainly no Obsequiae in its aims) but this aspect energizes the Ungfell sound.
So far, so good. Unfortunately, there are elements which slow down the album. For example, it feels too long at 49 minutes. This isn’t just an abstract objection to a number which is bigger than 40; rather it manifests through a lack of punch across the entirety. Perhaps the goal was for something hypnotic but some passages are limp compared with others, lacking the incisiveness and causing me to fall into a disengaged lull. Many of the riffs and the record’s evocativeness are great but I cannot justify one of my top awards where I’m not engaged throughout. It feels relatively easy to fix as some of the more repetitive parts could simply be shorter by a few bars. The pacing is slightly muddled too; the back half, while containing moments of excellence, is too stacked with interludes which break the flow. Further to this point, “Der Ritter von Lasarraz” makes for a fairly epic and dynamic journey as the longest track which peaks with a cacophonous conclusion. As such, I think would have made a better finisher than “Raserei des Unholds” (despite the latter’s effective, doom-laden cello).
Mythen is a release of great strengths but bothersome weaknesses. The highs are higher than Tôtbringære but it’s more patchy overall. It nonetheless remains an easy recommendation for black metal kvltists, trebuchet enthusiasts and those who like their metal experimental without the obnoxiousness. I’m still grateful for last year’s introduction to this Swiss enigma.