We stand in what is probably the second worst episode of PR troubles for black metal and its affiliated genres (the first being, you know, the whole church burning and murder thing). As the Overton window shifts and buckles under the constant changes overtaking our society, the question of the ties between these genres (black metal especially but also the milieu of genres surrounding it, like neo-folk) and the esoteric ideologies that are all too often at the basis of right wing ideology arises again and again. The sad fact is though, that in the justified suspicion which has become necessary towards these genres, much might be lost. After all, nature is indeed beautiful and impressive, individualism is a powerful, human force and the desire for self expression and strength which stands at the basis of much of these genres is a worthy one.
Thus, it would do us much good to delay on the parts of these segments of metal that are still worthwhile and free of the perversions that extremist ideology has placed them under. It is still possible to do good things in the spaces which bigoted black metal has come to dominate in our cultural discourse, namely the themes, ideas and aesthetic language surrounding the relationship of humans and nature. Take Ulvesang for example, a neo-folk project from Nova Scotia that is all about the dark majesty of nature. Their previous, self-titled album, was a morose, melancholic and dark sojourn in a shaded forest. Its guitar melodies, the main focus of the music, weaved a beguiling and often oppressive tapestry of longing for nature.
Now, on their second album titled The Hunt, Ulvesang return to the core of their sound but with a different approach. The mainstays of the music are still there; the guitar tones are deep, dark and somber. The throat-y singing which often accompanies the instrumentation is still faintly threatening and broodingly mysterious. There is an undeniable melancholy running through the whole thing, a contemplation of the vastness of nature which anyone who has ever stood at the base of a mountain or before the first step into a forest has surely felt. However, it feels as if the season has changed in our natural world; it feels as if spring is much more the theme here than the autumn which dominated the previous release.
Good evidence of this can be found on the title track as well as other places on the album. Somewhere along the track, the guitar explode into a complexity they rarely had on the previous album. They are not just reiterating on the track’s/album’s theme, but rather running with their own vibe and it’s decidedly filled with verve and power. It would be a stretch to say it’s happier, because the overall tone is still the pensive shade which all of Ulvesang’s music is painted in but there’s definitely something more energetic and bouncy about the composition. This “uplifted” mode is also present on “The Run”, a track filled with the sounds of rain and nature in bloom. This is a twist on the Ulvesang formula rather than a reinvention; the basic elements are still there but they are configured in such a way as to sound greener, bursting with the life-giving eagerness of spring.
Which brings us back to the good that can come of this sort of music. Nature is not one thing; it is, in fact, one of the most complex objects (or even “hyperobjects”, if you’ve been keeping up with your contemporary philosophy) known to us. Through the subtle, sensitive and expressive work of bands like Ulvesang, so different from the violent and brutish echoes of a lot of black metal and neo-folk interested bands out there today, we can learn more about how we feel, think and talk about nature. The changes they have enacted on The Hunt, their comparison with the previous album and the overall contemplative mood of their music, allows Ulvesang to breach one of the most basic and primal relationships known to us, our relationship with nature. And it makes for damn fine music as well.
Ulvesang’s The Hunt releases on March 16th. You can head on over to their Bandcamp above to grab it. We recommend pouring yourself something to drink, turning the A/C to max or just cracking open a window if you happen to have a cold wind blowing, and let your mind go.