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Blut Aus Nord - Ultima Thulée CD (album) cover

ULTIMA THULÉE

Blut Aus Nord

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.06 | 15 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Ultima Thulee' - Blut aus Nord (83/100)

If I ever feel I need to put my ego in check, I remind myself that Vindsval wrote and recorded Ultima Thulée when he was fifteen years old. Sure, you don't need to look far to find black metal musicians who got their start when they were incredibly young, but a lot of the young teens mucked about with raw demos, putting out better-developed material once they were older. Vindsval had his rough demo period in his time working under the name Vlad in the years leading up to Ultima Thulée, but by the time of a full-length it's clear he already knew exactly what to do and how to do it.

Ultima Thulée is a painfully underrated and overlooked piece of work. Released in 1995, a year where the Second Wave was finally beginning to die down, Ultima Thulée is a burst of fresh air. Blut aus Nord would evolve into one of black metal's strangest entities in the years following, but even starting out there was already a weird Otherness to the atmosphere. First impressions had me thinking of it as a crunchier-sounding Burzum. Indeed, the fantastical, wintery atmosphere is here (albeit with far chuggier tones than master Varg is wont to use) but Ultima Thulée hints at the band's avant-garde destiny more than most of their fans lead on. Listen to the way "The Son of Hoarfrost" opens up the album with horror film piano before bursting into thick guitars, eerie synths, chattering drums and murky screams. They're not a great deal weirder than early Emperor here, but a lot of their defining traits were onboard from the very start.

That's not to say that Ultima Thulée should be seen as a step to something greater. My appreciation for many debuts often takes the form of admiring how a band go to a certain point, but I won't hesitate in saying Blut aus Nord's genius was already just about in full swing with this one; it just takes a different shape than what most listeners are used to hearing from them. The thick atmosphere is best expressed on "The Plain of Ida", where Vindsval builds amazing riffs beginning under a droning dungeon synth line that would make Burzum weep. Where the song might naturally stop some minutes in, Vindsval tacks on a spacey build that almost nearly recalls Voivod. Although the song titles might make Ultima Thulée out to be a more traditional black metal record, there are all sorts of oddities found in the music. For another example, the plodding riffs on "The Last Journey of Ringhorn" sounds like a death-doom interpretation of what life would be like on an asteroid mining colony. It's strange to hear such a strong sci-fi flavour on an album that's supposedly about Norse mythology. I'm not surprised Blut aus Nord ultimately changed their tune in that regard.

Ultima Thulée is consistently engaging and surprisingly varied in its efforts. I'm not surprised that Blut aus Nord could excel in more "traditional" territory (relatively speaking, at least) but it is incredible that they had their craft nailed from such an early stage. Excellence in youth can sometimes be attributed to luck and simple intuition, but I don't think that was the case for Vindsval. There was real vision behind this album. If you're having any trouble finding it, keep an ear out for the way Ultima Thulée is structured. Like a lot of the best black metal albums from that era, the album can take you on a journey if you let it. Ambient threads like "My Prayer Beyond Ginnungagap" are allowed to take full blossom in the middle of the album. The end result may still be shy of the groundshaking perfection achieved on later albums like The Work Which Transforms God, but Blut aus Nord were out to break rules from the very beginning.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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