ULTHA – Pain Cleanses Every Doubt LP
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‘Pain Cleanses Every Doubt’ is a difficult album to review. There’s a lot to like about this album, especially because this is only the band’s debut and yet they have a sound like they’ve been playing together for much longer than they have been. Ultha’s sound is fully-realized, and it’s engrossing as hell. However, there is one key issue that is most likely going to ultimately determine how you feel about the album: how you feel about the vocals.
As much as certain varieties of metal fans deride screaming vocals as either sonically unappealing or for being the refuge of people who can’t sing; there is a lot of technique that goes into making traditional black and death metal vocals sound the way they need to. There’s also more variety to choose from than is often considered. Abbath doesn’t sound like Attila Csihar, or how Jon Nödtveidt used to. Gaahl doesn’t sound like Pest. There are a variety styles and techniques involved, even if the end result is harsh screaming one way or the other.
One style that is particularly tough to accept is that which Varg Vikernes used on the early Burzumalbums. This specific style is probably most common in depressive black metal, and was used to almost comedic effect on Silencer’s ‘Death – Pierce Me’. While C.’s vocals are in a similar vein to those of Vikernes, they have a certain restraint and harshness to them that will likely take away the negative aspects for people who don’t care for that specific style. C. has found a way to take a normally unpalatable shriek and show that it can work well with the instrumental side of Ultha, just by exercising some control over his voice. Combining that with R.’s deep-throated roar makes for a compelling addition to Ultha’s overall sound.
Musically, Ultha fits in well alongside bands like Armagedda or early Forgotten Tomb, not because they sound all that similar, but because they have a similar emotional tone. Ultha’s metal is pitch black, without crossing into Deathspell Omega-style chaos and dissonance. It also shares song writing sensibility with Sweden’s Shining, though I fear Shining in 2015 is kind of a caricature of itself, as opposed to being an exciting and interesting band as they were around the time of ‘III’ and ‘IV’.Ultha has more in common with Shining at its most interesting, when the band was less a promotional vehicle for Kvarforth and more of a band taking a somewhat standard black metal style and breathing new life into it.
On ‘Pain Cleanses Every Doubt’, Ultha offers further evidence that as much as orthodox black metal is criticised for being too conservative when it comes to incorporating new elements and trying new things, there are still plenty of ways to be compelling and interesting. Ultha does this through being dynamic and knowing that if you’re working within narrow musical confines, seemingly small choices can make a big difference when you pay attention to detail.