Pure black energy: Vinterland and Ungod

Let’s raise a glass to the work horses of black metal. Maybe not epoch defining or game changing; just putting out solid work of quality for the sheer grim of it. And looking back to the mid-1990s there’s plenty of such artists to choose from.

Vinterland’s sole full length LP ‘Welcome My Last Chapter’ (1996) is typical of Swedish melodic death/black metal of the time. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it exemplary, because the competition is pretty stiff in this regard. If you are at all familiar with the works of Sacramentum, Dawn, Dissection, and Kvist, then you know exactly what you’ll be getting with WMLC. If you are unfamiliar with these works, then this album is a real treat.

Fast paced tremolo strummed riffs are underpinned by crisp drums that seamlessly transition from blast beats to much slower tempos in an instant. The rhythm section is commanded by the guitars, which – through the interplay of riffs – sets the structure of each track, with the rhythm section augmenting each transition but following the will of each riff. In this sense this music is structurally closer to death metal, but many of the riffs themselves, along with the guitar tone and vocals, are more akin to black metal.

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I mentioned on a previous review that this music can become overwhelming if listened to at great length. There is such a dearth of ideas, usually all played at high speeds, that unless one concentrates on each and every riff meticulously, it can become a wash of noise. Some artists in this style (like Dissection) chose to break up the music with interludes or acoustic passages. Vinterland have opted for a mix of ambient interludes, piano passages, and the use of acoustic guitars overlaying the electric, adding more variation to the timbre and allowing the listener a respite from the relentless onslaught of tremolo strummed guitars.

Although this is a finely crafted album, packed with good ideas, it suffers from what I’m going to call finale fatigue. At a certain point in each track the riffs all begin to sound like the finale, but the music just keeps on going. Don’t get me wrong, they are well played and creative, but one feels that Vinterland’s pacing is just a little off. It is a shame that  this was their only LP, as one gets the impression that a follow up could have been more streamlined, ironing out some of the cracks in this otherwise engaging music.

Unlike Vinterland, Ungod don’t really sound typical of their native Germany, but that’s largely because there’s just not enough German black metal going to amount to a ‘style’. The original incarnation of Absurd was a short lived folky/punk outfit, Nagelfar were an exercise in energetic yet experimental black metal…then there’s Ungod, and their debut LP ‘Circle of the Seven Infernal Pacts’ (1993). For fans of ‘Under a Funeral Moon’ I would say, although this comes with more than a token nod to melody.

This is simple lo-fi black metal that nevertheless offers up an abundance of riffs and a surprising degree of melody. One gets the impression that the poor production values were more a matter of necessity than choice, unlike their northern cousins Darkthrone. They have layered the entire final mix with reverb to cover up what would otherwise be a rather flat recording. The result is music that sounds like it is being played underwater. Vocals are a high pitched distant shriek, fairly standard black metal fair.

Drums are unremarkable, but they don’t need to be with this minimalist take on black metal. They exist to serve the wash of guitars. This always reminds me of an interesting interview with Fenriz on ‘Transylvanian Hunger’, where he explained that for this style of black metal, the drums simply have to be there. ‘Soulside Journey’ (1991) demonstrated that he was already a very accomplished drummer, but he did not feel the need to showcase this for Darkthrone’s black metal trilogy, because the music is better served by more basic drumming that simply adds to the pacing.

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With that in mind, it is clear on COTSIP that guitars are the real stars of the show. Although awash with the reverb that covers the entire record, they set the tone, the pace, the tempo, the rhythm, and the mood of this music. Although relatively basic, there is enough creativity behind the riff formations to hold one’s attention. I like to think of this album as a beginners guide to how run-of-the mill black metal is put together. The simplicity of all the components allows one a glimpse of how more complicated music of this nature is put together. No it’s not ground breaking, nor is it all that remarkable, but for those wishing to delve deeper into the mechanics of basic black metal, this album offers much of academic interest.

For sheer entertainment value Vinterland is the pick of the week for me. The style is more accessible, the production crisper and cleaner, the compositions more developed, all round just more music going on. Ungod I would only recommend to underground black metal enthusiasts like myself. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, and fans of Darkthrone have heard it all before, but it’s a worthy addition to the libraries of black metal fans up and down the land, and instructional in how this music is crafted. Vinterland may not be the most original in their field, but they showed much (sadly unrealised) potential on ‘Welcome My Last Chapter’, and there is just something highly addictive about melodic blackened death metal that it never fails to hit the spot if done well.

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