Siberian black metallers, Ultar serve up their second full length studio album with Pantheon MMXIX. An atmospheric and emotive record, released on the 29th of March via ToT Records.
Originally formed in 2011 in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia but under the name Deafknife, they changed their name to Ultar just a few years back, in 2016. A post black metal band, they released their Ultar debut, Kadath, the same year. The album was popular and prompted the band to record it live for their second release, Live in Kadath. Ultar are a five piece with Pavel on the bass and Gleb on vocals. On drums it’s Vlad while both Denis and Maxim are on guitars and keys.
Pantheon has 7 tracks on it weighing in at around 47 minutes of music. The album kicks off with Father Dagon. A song that is about as perfect a way to introduce Ultar and Pantheon as you could hope for. It really defines them.
It builds in gently, adding layers of sampled waves and eerie guitars to create a bleak soundscape. Melodic guitars come in over the top before a thick bass line and gentle drums add yet more detail. With a drum roll, the bleak sounds turn dangerous. Growled vocals come in with a hellish scream and the instruments turn the volume up to 11. While it’s a hard hitting sound with impressively demonic vocals, it still retains an underlying melody and atmosphere. Little melodic slow downs followed by explosions of blackened power have real impact. Hearing Gleb scream for extended periods shows his immense range. It’s a remarkable song and start to an album.
It’s pleasing to say that it doesn’t tail off from here either. Pantheon is one of the most expansive and emotive black metal albums released so far this year. Shub-Niggurath has a similar feel to it. Hard hitting blackened riffs and thunderous drum blasts sit nicely on a bed of morose melody. Yog-Sothoth comes third and is a 10 minute long beast. Starting with menacing horns and thick bass lines, you feel the approaching danger dripping through the headphones. It’s a slow and atmosphere building start with a little melody starting to appear amidst hypnotic drum beats before a huge guitar line and vocals dragged forth from the depths of hell move the song forward. What comes next is a deeply beautiful journey. A jaunt through vicious blackened death blasts with switches back to atmospheric melody leaving you unsure of what will come next but positive it will be awesome.
Worms has a bit of an 80’s horror movie feel to the start with it’s echoed background noise and keys melody. Again it builds slowly before being joined by an explosion of guitars and drums. It’s heavy but still retains a lot of groove and melody in its slow build. The louder guitars and drums work brilliantly mixed with the intro notes. It’s a wicked sound. Vocals come in dark and sinister, with plenty of melody in the backing. The eerily beautiful ending that sees female choir vocals lead us out over a bed of melody is perfection.
Au Seuil is a 5 and a half minutes long instrumental. Atmospheric acoustic tones that mix in with loads of cymbal rolls and a higher toned lead guitar line. Au Seuil switches to a doom sound halfway through with heavily layered and heavily distorted melody creating a muddy swamp of a tone, once more showing how expansive Ultar can be.
The long instrumental almost acts as an intro to the next song, Beyond the Wall of Sleep making it more like an over 11 minute long double header. The muddy doom tones stay but with dark and gravelly vocals mixed with ear piercing screeches. It’s a little black gaze, especially with the rallying lead guitar melody blazing over all the sludge. It’s an exciting wall of sound with so much dark and brooding heaviness but a strong vein of melodic light running through proceedings. The vocals are absolutely on fire, moving through different tones from dark to screamed but all with immense passion and fire. The melodic slow down in the middle is a thing of beauty matched only by its sudden stop and the opening of the gates of hell as all instruments crash back in alongside a milk curdling scream. Amazing.
The last song of this impressive album is called Swarm. It starts with gently building melodic tones and a growing drum rhythm. The bass in the intro really stands out creating a thick and grooving rhythm. A screech of electric guitars sees Pantheon take the volume and aggression up multiple notches. Blistering drum blasts and a pummelling riff sit alongside an extended scream. Verses are delivered with pace and power over an interesting riff before a huge melodic line comes in over the chorus. The overall pace of Swarm switches to a mid tempo groove with vocals delivered in bursts and a rhythmic drum and bass line while the guitars still blaze out fiery melody. This pants out for a bit before a burst of backing keys and guitars fades the song out and brings Pantheon MMXIX to a close.
Speaking about the new album, vocalist Gleb Sysoev said – “Pantheon MMXIX is a manifestation of our sacred connection with shapes and forces unseen by ordinary human perception. The record does not have a specific narrative thread, however, it does have a united concept. This album draws certain parallels between the problems of our modern world and the Lovecraftian phenomena, observing the obvious similarities between them.”
For me Pantheon MMXIX represents the very best of black metal. Ultar have captured a sound that remembers tradition but expand massively on it. Shows respect to their peers but never imitates. While it is certainly a black metal album, you see how the band gently move into other sub-genres to keep the sound fresh and unique to them. Some death metal, black gaze, doom and so much more. Ultar have created a phenomenal album in Pantheon MMXIX showing the strength of music coming out from Russia.
Maybe Russia has always had a strong black metal scene? It certainly hasn’t always reached our shores often if so but metal knows no boundaries or walls and we now seem to be getting more and more music from around the world. Within all of that global music you will find Pantheon MMXIX, one of the best black metal albums you are likely to hear in 2019.
Pantheon MMXIX is out now on all the usual streaming platforms. You can grab a copy in a few different packages from Ultar’s Bandcamp page here. Find out more about or keep up to date with Ultar at their YouTube channel, on Facebook and on Instagram.
Pantheon MMXIX by Ultar (ToT Records)
The Final Score - 10/10