|Release||12 January 2013|
While I’m not really the biggest fan of the deep, growling vocals, Huldra have enough going on to make it work well, and for me to really enjoy it. That said, being greeted by those vocals alone can be a bit of a shock, but it certainly pays off. The debut full-length (the band previously released the ‘Signals From the Void‘ EP, and a split with fellow Utah band Dustbloom) by this Salt Lake City quintet is heavy on the sludge, and heavy on the Isis influence. There’s no rip-off here, by any means, though – Huldra brings enough of their own immense songwriting talent to make things truly unique. In addition to all of the post-rock/sludge/whatever influences, there’s a bit of psychedelia that creeps in here and there, mostly through some of the bass lines, which creates a wonderfully eerie mood.
The phrase “roller coaster ride” is used a lot to describe post-* albums, and in this case, it’s especially fitting. The opening track, “Monuments“, is a relentless assault (albeit with some underlying melodic guitar riffs) that runs it’s course before diving straight into the much more subdued and melodic “Twisted Tongues and Gnarled Roots“. This is where some of the first instances of the previously mentioned bass lines can first be noticed, and they have sort of a Tool feel to them. The song ascends to a truly beautiful ending, with frantic guitars and driving drums leading the way for the last 2 minutes.
“Noctua” acts as a somewhat calm, breather moment, before Huldra launches into the epic 12 minute “Ursidae“. The track builds and builds over the course of the first 8 minutes or so before really kicking into its full strength, and it’s magnificent when it does. It’s one of the top moments on the album to me, and really shows how talented these guys are. The follow up, “Thousands of Eyes“, wastes no time getting right into the heaviness. Sludgy riffs, pounding drums, and fierce vocals greet you almost immediately. The aural assault wanes after about a minute and a half, leading to some clean vocals and melodic guitar work, before picking right back up. Admittedly, I’m not much of a fan of the clean vocals here, they fit the mood and tone, but… I just don’t think they’re very good. The rest of the track is really remarkable, though, so it’s just a minor setback.
Another transitional, ambient track, “Damnatio ad Bestias“, follows, further showcasing Huldra‘s understanding of setting a mood, and their great ability to do so. These interludes, as it were, give the album sort of a living feel to it, as though you can feel it truly rising and falling. “As Above, So Below” is one of the most instrument heavy songs on the album, with the vocals not kicking in until near the end. The brief burst of energy and vocals gives way again to a slower, melodic pace that rounds out the song.
My absolute favorite track on the album is up next, “Is This The End? This Is The End”. Even the initial riff lets you know that you’re in for a hell of a ride, and once everything else kicks in shortly thereafter, things get really good. To me, this is a near perfect sludge/post-metal song. The builds and breaks, the melody and mayhem, it all works together so well here. There’s one reeeeally weird element to the intro, but I don’t want to give it away. I want to see if anyone notices and agrees with me.
I may be in the minority here, but “Monoliths” is an incredibly beautiful track. Not only musically, but the inclusion of what sounds like a theremin perhaps, which creates noises that sound remarkably like whale songs is absolutely gorgeous. Overall, the track just has a haunting, beautiful feel to it, and despite being the most “experimental” track, it really is one that I can listen to over and over.
One final “breather” (“Auctoritas Non Veritas Facit Legem“) leads into the nearly 13 minute “The City in the Sky“, which provides Huldra with another opportunity to really explore their talents. The shorter songs on the album are good, of course, but I feel like the longer ones are where they truly shine. The interesting part of that is that the “shorter” songs still typically approach the 10 minute mark. There’s something about throwing in another two or three minutes that really makes the “long” songs stand out to me, but it may very well be that I just enjoy long, flowing songs.
All in all, it’s a really great album, with only a few minor flaws to me. Huldra are a fairly young band, in terms of how long they’ve been releasing music, so I’m very excited to see where they go from here.