Urfuast’s third and most recent album, Der Freiwillige Bettler
, is the result of the trial and error fine-tuning of two album’s work. The previous two albums by the band were great to say the least, but they had issues when it came to the way they integrated dark ambient passages and black metal. The great atmosphere and musicianship was still present, but on Der Freiwillige Bettler
they have been improved, and it seems like the stars have fully aligned for this two-piece band from Holland
The music contained on Der Freiwillige Bettler
is slow-to-mid-paced, brooding, moody, and sparse. The production is along the lines of standard depressive/suicidal black metal. The guitars are sharp and their notes are half-drowned in hiss and static, sounding similar to a swarm of hungry locusts. This sound gives the instruments of the album a claustrophobic suffocated feel, and work perfectly to set tones much darker than those on earlier Urfaust
works like Geist ist Teufel
. The atmosphere is much denser as well, stuffed full of that otherworldly sense of the mysterious and occult that makes black metal so freaking awesome. And
despite the piercing sparse quality of the guitars and the total lack of any bass guitar, the sound of the album is full-bodied and almost grandiose at times (of course aided by the use of Willem’s absolutely killer Gregorian chants, wailing yells, and trembling howl, as well as the sparing use of synths here and there.
Speaking of which--and I wasn’t sure how it was possible—Willem’s voice is even better than it was on Verräterischer, Nichtswürdiger Geist
. His deep, clean singing yell that he has made himself known for since the debut are more powerful than before, and the passion in his voice is fiercer. It only takes a few lines of his singing on the opener Vom Gesicht und Rätsel before he surpasses the bar that he set in previous attempts. His bellow is epic and medieval, full of sorrow, triumph and anger when he needs it to be. His shrieking screams, which I had previously considered to be his weak point, have been amped up. They don’t seem to hold any trace of the slight wavering tepidness on the other two albums, making it all the more enjoyable when the listener comes across a song on this album that only utilizes the scream, such as Das Kind mit dem Spiegel . Of course, Willem’s vocals are the sort of unique in which I wouldn’t expect everyone to be crazy about them. His voice is the sort that is an acquired taste, one for fans of the early Vikernes high shriek and Attila
Csihar’s baritone roar. Of course, to compare Willem’s voice to another’s can be a bit misleading, given the fact that his unique blend of clean and harsh voices is quite unique to most music, let alone black metal.
Much of the time, as with previous Urfaust
releases, Willem’s voice is what leads the melodies of the songs (especially on Vom Gesicht und Rätsel and Der Mensch, die Kleine Narrenwelt). His voice guides the listener through dark chambers and deep forests as slow, ominous guitars play their drone. Other times, the guitars play with riffs that set deep moods and outdo most of the repetitive depressive suicidal black metal riffing from any other big band under that genre. Though the riffs are simple and are maintained for long sections of time, they are always riffs worth repeating, and the use of shifting drums, melody-filled melancholic vocals, and the occasional odd reverbing echo or synth noise helps to vary the underlying riffs. The songs are fairly straightforward in structure, returning to earlier riffs in pattern until the song leaps forward again into the following section, so it’s safe to say that Urfaust
is opting for pure atmosphere and mood, which is totally fine with me since they use it so well.
The atmosphere here is absolute top-notch. Aside from standard tremolo-picked riffs Urfaust
makes use of strong open-ended and very slow chord progressions, distorted vocals, and anything they need to really sink the listener into the raw fields of emotion that only really competent black metal can create. The swirling sounds that pour out of the speakers listening to this album should hook anyone who listens to music for feel. Willem’s vocals change with the music and always work perfectly to get the right mood across. When everything’s working together, you can forget that you’re only listening to two musicians playing. It’s very dark and tortured, and the depressing aspects of the music are counterbalanced by the operatic theatrical tone so that the listener shouldn’t become bored or feel like they’re being hit over the head by the same emotional gimmicks over and over. At times the music can be loud and threatening with its powerful claustrophobic fuzz, and on other occasions it almost borders on funeral doom (as in the song Die
Kleine Narrenwelt). When you think you’re at the end of the range, Ein Leeres ZauberSpiel comes in, being the only fast song on the album. Still, the album keeps its overall footing and never strays far enough to feel inconsistent in execution. Even the one fast song doesn’t feel out of place with the general atmosphere. The album can be quite meditational in this sense, perfect for listening to on a loud sound system alone at night.
The ambient tracks are another great element that pushes this album beyond its predecessors. Since Urfaust
started as an ambient band, they are no strangers to long, minimalist tracks, but it is here on Der Freiwillige Bettler
that they pull off the creepy minimalism with true aplomb. This album seeks to combine, rather than segregate, the black metal tone with the ambience. Songs like the title track and Der Hässlichste Mensch could best be described as minimalist and ambient in their structure and sound, but the integration of heavily-fuzzed guitars and wailing vocals echoing around the listener work well to tie the songs into the rest of the album tonally. There’s also the fact that there’s a certain subtle industrial element to a lot of the music—Das Kind Mit Dem Spiegel and other songs make use of keyboards to lift the melodies out of the murk when it is needed, but they’re never overdone. It is a presence one can feel in the album throughout and it gives the music an interesting tone when it’s used. The sense of abrupt separation I felt between instrumental non-instrumental tracks in the previous albums has been eased away enough that the sound works in unison, but the transitions haven’t been blended to the point that I can’t tell ambient apart from black songs. Urfaust
never had many flaws to begin with—the aforementioned was only slightly detrimental—but now it is very hard to pick anything apart in the album as being weak. The album is only 45 minutes to begin with and contains only seven tracks, and since each song is quite unique from the song before it, there’s nothing really bad to say about this.
Der Freiwillige Bettler
is an absolute must-listen of contemporary black metal. The album respects the bone-chilling, misanthropic, dark forest aesthetic nature of earlier Norwegian black metal works, but it possesses a lot to make it bold and daring, and even under the name Urfaust
it has enough tricks up its sleeve and enough surprises to show fans that the band hasn’t run out of ideas yet and will continue to grow. If you’re an Urfaust
fan who has heard the first or second album, you need to give this one a try, because it really tries new things and it pulls it off really well. If you’re a black metal lover who still hasn’t heard Urfaust
, what the hell are you waiting for?
Vom Gesicht und Rätsel
Das Kind Mit Dem Spiegel
Der Mensch, die Kleine Narrenwelt