Ungfell Takes You to the Middle Ages (Full Album Stream + Interview)
Black metal's preoccupation with myths and legends is no secret, the notion of pagan lore and the "ancient" fueling the genre's ideological and conceptual self is as important as the music itself. Swiss black metal duo Ungfell's own mythical approach is no different, though their respect for the past and intense, intricate approach sets them in a category all their own.
On new album Es grauet, Ungfell tells a gruesome story of, as multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Menetekel puts it, "moral ambiguity and terrible atrocities." Without going too into the concept, which can be read in a brief interview with the artist below, Ungfell's lore-based approach is meant to portray a period of time and a mindset rather than simply being "an atmosphere" or "an idea." Sound effects like cattle, jaw harp, and other rural-centric sounds are meant to take the listener to a small Swiss town in the Middle Ages, which is paired with an increasingly atmospheric sound when compared to earlier Ungfell releases. Don't be mistaken, though: Ungfell is not an atmospheric black metal band, and Menetekel doubles down on that notion below. No, Ungfell is ferocious, melodic, and aggressive, their intricate and folk-tale-and-music inspired approach is a refreshing take in a sea of washed out clones.
Listen to Es grauet in full ahead of its release date and read a brief interview with Menetekel below.
You once referred to your songwriting process as "unspectacular," citing melodies gathered at random and recording using a computer. How is it that such mundanity can lead to dynamic, exciting music?
I would call my writing process pretty unspectacular, that is true. It’s just not very exciting to picture a guy in front of a computer, trying to figure out riffs. I doubt I said "melodies gathered at random," but with creativity there is always a certain spontaneous element so yes, I just play whatever pops in my head. That doesn’t mean it’s good though or it fits the track I’m working on. There are certain bands where you can improvise riffs and the tracks kind of write themselves. Ungfell is not one of those bands since the whole riffing is way too intricate. I perceive the songwriting process as some sort of puzzle with an infinite number of possible outcomes and I think the answer to how such mundanity can lead to dynamic music is: through very mundane work and a lot of invested time.
Es grauet features a greater emphasis on atmosphere when compared to previous Ungfell releases. What led to this shift in focus?
I’m probably getting old. When I'm listening to the previous albums today they always feel hyper nervous and somehow I just want to move away from this a little bit. Especially with the concept I had for this album it just felt wrong to turn it up to eleven so to speak. I wanted a warm sound, something that fits into the atmosphere of an idyllic village somewhere in the mountains. Obviously it gets less and less idyllic as the story unfolds. I don’t plan on Ungfell becoming an atmospheric black metal band though, so don’t worry.
I understand there is a concept for this new album -- the press release leads me to believe it's a bit of a pre-modern murder mystery. Can you go deeper into this?
It is a very complicated and multifaceted story, full of moral ambiguity and terrible atrocities. The whole story takes place in a remote mountain village. There, the leader of the community witnesses a prostitute having sexual intercourse in the forbidden "devil's position." Under threat of being charged as a witch, she is forced to only associate with him. Soon she gives birth to hideously deformed twin boys, which soon show malignant tendencies. Due to the influence of the leader they are schooled to become priests. The two brothers are ashamed of the lifestyle of their mother and her alcoholic husband and when they meet them one day in the ravine, they throw them down a slope without further ado. An old widow observes the murder and reports it to the village leader who then has the old woman captured and tortured. The widow is now accused of being responsible for the death of the two people herself; for she is a witch and possessed by the green man. Under torture, she has visions of how all the people in the village will die and how the village will be destroyed. She begins to curse the torturers, but dies shortly afterwards in excruciating agony. Disturbed by the curse of the old woman, her head is to be cut off and burned; according to old beliefs, this was the only way to avert a witch's curse. However, the head rolls over a slope and is not to be found. Not long after these events, a catastrophe occurs after a thunderstorm: a mudslide loosens and buries the whole village, including the village leader and the twins.
How does this new concept fit into Ungfell's greater myth-centric concept?
Well it’s a myth innit?
The Helvete Underground Committee, the circle to which Ungfell calls home, remains elusive and your true identities even moreso. Though I appreciate it, why all the mystique? Do you feel it adds to the Ungfell experience?
It certainly wouldn’t add to the band and the concept if you knew our real names, professions, etc. Also, it wouldn’t fit the concept with all the medieval stuff. I feel like Ungfell has its own little universe and this is somehow disconnected from the real world. It’s a world where witches still roam the earth and all those myths are real. A part of me is part of this universe, but not the whole me. So it makes sense to give a separate name to this person that lives within me.
Es grauet releases April 30th on Eisenwald.