If you’re familiar with the works of Osi and the Jupiter, you might have certain expectations for what a side project of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sean Deth might sound like. But unless you thought “I bet this sounds like sinister, serial killer black metal,” you’d be quite wrong indeed. A far cray from the neofolk stylings of Osi, Ulven and their second full-length Death Rites Upon a Winged Crusade are malignant, violent black metal of the highest caliber.
The album opens with the sinister intro “Ninth Psalm Under Moons of Decay.” It starts off ambient, but before long the distant chiming of a funeral bell can be heard, a forewarning of what is to come. From far off in the gloom there’s the faintest hint of tortured chanting, voices speaking in vague and unknowable tongues. And then the slaughter starts.
“Howling Death” explodes into action with a deep, guttural roar as the drums build up momentum for their vicious blastbeat assault. From here on in you know the score: bleak, evil second-wave black metal the way you remember it. You’ll never be wanting for tremolos, blastbeats or harsh, croaked vocals; this album has them all in spades. While there are many bands out there who try to shake up the formula with experimentation that never quite sticks, Ulven simply stick to what is tried and tested, and they do a good goddamn job of it.
An early album highlight is “Night of the Long Knife”. More than just a badass title, it’s one of the album’s most intense songs. It starts off slow and somber, but once it gets going it never ceases to build upon itself, slowly growing more and more menacing and violent until its explosive conclusion and fade-to-Black finale.
The one-two punch of the album’s final two tracks is another highlight. “Blood Drained From the Veins of Black Hearts” is just as grim as it sounds. It’s one of the most diabolical pieces of music Death Rites has to offer. At certain points it reminds me of modern Mayhem, and at others it reminds me of old school Dark Funeral. But then we get to see a completely different side of the band on “Where Light Barely Penetrates,” the record’s final song. It’s much more melodic than anything else on the album and it’s (dare I say it) almost catchy. If I were to put my finger down on the best track here, it would fall firmly on this one.
To recap, this album does nothing new. Nothing at all. But that’s okay. Ulven have delivered an excellent meat and potatoes black metal album that is devoid of pretentious waffling and a staunch middle finger to the rising popularity of art school black metal. This album is essential listening for fans of black metal the way mama used to make it, and an excellent way to begin Ulven’s undoubtedly illustrious career.