It is said that the chirping of crickets signals the onset of fall and the slow death of summer. Thus, it’s entirely appropriate that Ulvesang‘s eponymous debut opens with said insect sounds, as autumnal tones dominate this set of evocative instrumentals throughout. While never dazzling with showy technique or unnecessary complexity—an over-tolerated distraction in guitar-based music, in my opinion—this Canadian three-piece skilfully evoke wildwood shades and images aplenty with their studied simplicity, using the space between the tones to give the mind room to wander. As a soundtrack to the ‘paganism and mythology’ that the band identify as their influences, it does the trick ably. A walk in the woods it may be, but there’s more to this collection than aimless trudging.
Focused, dreamy strumming leads you through most of Ulvesang’s leaf-quilted forest and chiming; unfolding folk melodies are a feature of most tracks, such as the melancholic “Two Rivers.” Here, as elsewhere, low chants and vocal drones accompany the guitar on and help create that dour yet reverent atmosphere while giving others a ceremonial tone. These moments are best, but it’s here that I wish Ulvesang had gone further: while the guitar benefits from a soft and crystalline sound, the scarce nature of the vocals robs some passages of their potential drama. Airy wisps of welcome voice adorn some tracks in the manner of new-age music, and enjoyably so, but some of the more high-tempo moments could have their impact amplified by a clearer, more robust vocal presence.
That said, there are very few other improvements one could wish for without compromising the essential core of these carefully tuned miniatures. The intention was never to stun the listener with epic scale, as some pagan or myth-referencing music feels it must, but to reflect the peace and introspection these influences inspire. I enjoyed the effect that the opening cricket sounds had, and I can’t help but feel that this type of light-touch field recordings could enhance other parts of the album to introduce some realism and grit, although perhaps the too-literal nature of such concrete sounds could jar with that spaciousness of thought the tunes allow. Nonetheless, my brain imagined the warmth of fires, rustling of leaves, and crackle of burning twigs on more than a few tracks.
Not everything is so sleepy-eyed and placid, however. While clearly metal-influenced—indeed, one can hear as much of the legendary early Scandinavia in Ulvesang’s music as Cascadia (i.e., Lord Belial‘s ‘Forlorn in Silence’, In Flames‘ ‘Acoustic Medley’, and Ulver‘s ‘Naturmystikk’)—the compositions pace solemnly rather than stride triumphantly. This lends proceedings an air of isolation and grace, so when a dramatic (usually rhythmic) moment does rear its head—as on opener ‘The Purge’—the sense is one of personal awe or revelation rather than thunderous shock. Not merely relaxing or unchallenging, nor attention-grabbing or insistent, Ulvesang’s first release confidently achieves exactly what it sets out to, and it does so with elegance and poise.
01) The Purge
03) Two Rivers
04) Wolf’s Passage
06) A Town of Ash
07) Across the Burning Canyon
08) Arms in Pledge to Ellis