Review by Fernando on April 11, 2021.
Deep in the dark woods at the base of the Swiss alps, the band Ungfell was formed and became like a dreadful whisper in the underground for their style of unhinged black metal that mixed Swiss folk music to create a bleakly euphoric music. After a brief pause where its band members partook in several projects of equally high quality within their collective; the “Helvetic Underground Committee”, Ungfell return with their third opus Es Grauet, released under German label Eisenwald.
Now that the overly dramatic summary is done, let’s talk about this new record. Ungfell were indeed a wild surprise in several black metal circles due to how eccentric and attention grabbing their sound was. With many comparing them favorably to a certain French band I’d rather not talk about, the band made a loud splash in the pond and many (including myself) were eager to hear what this duo of Swiss warlocks did next. In short, this is both more of what everyone already enjoyed about Ungfell but with much more refinement and some unique new directions the band didn’t explored in their first two LP’s.
For starters, Es Grauet is a concept album with a narrative that encompasses the entire 38-minute runtime, and just from looking at the colorful and uncanny cover (courtesy of American illustrator Robbie C. Ward), you can tell this will be a unique experience. The band successfully managed to further expand and refine their style of raw and melodic black metal with folk elements, and in many ways the music seems to be a combination of the band’s rabid debut and their more folksy driven sophomore record, but also, has a more prevalent influence of classic heavy metal. The riffs and melodies take center stage and the folk instrumentation is present as a support and to enhance the music. Band’s main man Menetekel’s vocal work is also much more dynamic and varied, and is also a different approach. In their Facebook account, the band stated that the album suffered a delay due to Menentekel being sick and unable to sing, but he somehow managed to make a good use of it, as his vocals have switched from wailing shriekes to raspy growls, enhanced by reverb, he also does some really effective echoing chanting and deeper growls and it’s as if a demon of the forest was screaming in the middle of the night. The same can be said for drummer Vâlant, who is able to complement Menentekel, not just with speed and blast beats, but also folksy percussions and an overall classic rock performance in the vein of early Mercyful Fate and Paul Di'Anno era Iron Maiden. Its actually impressive how well this duo plays out with each other, and their chemistry and technical prowess is what makes this album so enjoyable.
However, while the main songs have that classic black metal approach of being minimalist and to the point, the band did more with that simplistic formula, as their folkish musicality is stronger than ever. Acoustic guitars, a jaw harp, a cello and some yodeling in the last track are employed in key parts of the main songs as well on very well arranged and executed interludes. Overall the music alone is a surprising culmination of everything the band did before, with a clear focus on expanding this sound further in the future.
Another element of what makes this album unique is its conceptual narrative. While I’m willing to admit that I don’t speak German (less so the band’s Swiss dialect), it didn’t stop me from enjoying the experience and how each song naturally flows into the next and at times it feels like one long song divided into eight parts. However, this is also the record’s one and only issue, because it’s a concept album and the band go deep in tying the music to the narrative so the experience can only be appreciated as an album. There’s definitely standout tracks like 'Tyfels Antlitz (Wie E Huerä Zwei Chind Empfanget)', 'S Chnochelied (Wie E Beschuldigti Gfoltered Wird Und Visione Bechunnt)' and 'D Unheilspfaffä Vom Heinzäbärg (Wie Tod Und Verdärbe Uf Das Dorf Iistürzt)' (the long titles also don’t help in this regard), all of which display the best elements I already described, but each is tied to an interlude or the previous track, so while you can enjoy them on their own, it’s like watching a single scene of a movie without the full context, but suffice to say, it will depend on each listener, furthermore, this isn’t a dig at the band. They more than prove why they deserve the hype they got back in 2018 so it’s more of a disclaimer so that people don’t go expecting a singular standout track to appear on a Spotify or Deezer playlist.
Overall Ungfell managed to return with a vengeance and were not only able to both meet expectations but also surpassed them with an ambitious and sprawling album with an equally epic story about the hideous wretchedness of humanity. Once again, this is a full album experience, and you’ll need to sit down, and be immersed in the haunted woodland sounds that only Ungfell can conjure.
Best tracks: 'Tyfels Antlitz (Wie E Huerä Zwei Chind Empfanget)', 'S Chnochelied (Wie E Beschuldigti Gfoltered Wird Und Visione Bechunnt)', 'D Unheilspfaffä Vom Heinzäbärg (Wie Tod Und Verdärbe Uf Das Dorf Iistürzt)'
Rating: 9.2 out of 10167