A relatively new act from Italy, extreme metal four piece Ulvedharr have steadily issued a number of releases since their inception in 2011. 2013’s Swords of Midgaard and 2014’s Ragnarök showed promise, with the group’s endeavour catching the eye of Milan based label Scarlet Records. With the backing and funding of their compatriots, the band are gearing up to stake their claim as one of metal’s best up and coming acts with their third album, Total War.
The record mainly dabbles in the death / thrash genre, and whilst some songs lean closer to one more than the other, neither sound is ever dominant. Ulvedharr do very well to assimilate the two not too dissimilar styles into one congruent whole, producing music that can veer from one direction to the next in a focused, free flowing frenzy. There really is a sense of controlled chaos about the whole affair, with Mike Balduzzi’s energetic drumming and sprightly footwork giving a sense of urgency and purpose. The skinsman’s tub thumping marries with Markus Ener’s bass to provide a thunderous backbone that allows the procession of mighty riffs unleashed by Ark Nattlig Ulv and Guiseppe Ciurlia to unfurl. Ulv’s hoarse bark is indistinct but does the job, with an occasional deeper growl also employed to good effect.
After the brief instrumental fling of “This Is War” builds up anticipation, “Wolves” kicks in with a riff of unbridled rage, before seamlessly shifting to a heavy, yet melodic, death tinged verse. It’s not Gothenburg style melodic death, more death metal with a hint of melody, and is the first of a few instances on Total War where harmonies are well incorporated. Early standout “Flagellum Dei” follows, and is probably the most ambitious song on the record. An old school death metal opening tears into a rip roaring thrasher, before the refrain leads us into blackened territory with a fiery riff. It’s a great song that marries the three cornerstones of extreme metal superbly, even allowing the listener to catch their breath in the mid section before once again giving them both barrels. “Krigaren” also sets foot on blackened soil with a slow, wondrous passage half way through an otherwise all death affair, with the searing riffs of the title track also of a black metal nature. Elsewhere, “Inquisition” evokes the spirit of Morbid Angel with some twisted, angular, Azagthoth style riffing, whilst those who are missing Hypocrisy during Mr Tägtgren’s escapades into industrial may find solace in “Master of Slavery”’s alluring savagery. The death ‘n’ roll spirit is alive and well in “Legion”, whereas “The Dark Age” shows Ulvedharr have the chops to dish out a side of groove to go with their thrash. The only minor misstep is in the form of “Wrath of Brenn”, where the surging chug of some of the riffs is quite generic.
What Ulvedharr have managed to achieve on Total War is to concoct a collection of tightly crafted, well written songs. When music moves as quickly as it does in extreme metal circles, it’s very easy for songs to drag, even if they’re in 3-4 minute territory, but this certainly isn’t an issue here. There’s nearly always something of interest going on, and there’s not a lot of fat that needs trimming, which was not always the case on their previous material. The album sits at a few seconds shy of 46 minutes, but never does it feel so, such is the level of engagement Ulvedharr compel from the listener. This is achieved through an adventurous approach that touches upon a variety of sounds from the extreme metal spectrum, leading to a diverse record that also works as a cohesive whole. I’m not sure this record (or the band themselves) will get the exposure it / they deserve, but those of an extreme metal persuasion are advised to give Total War a few spins, as I’m confident they’ll find it a rewarding listen. Their strongest effort to date, I sincerely hope this is the album that puts Ulvedharr on the map.
Highlights: “Flagellum Dei”, “Inquisition”, “Master of Slavery”
Total War is available worldwide on August 18th, via Scarlet Records.