Review: Unru – Die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten
Über allen Gipfeln ist Unru.
Unru had been on my radar for a while because of their proximity to Sun Worship, who did a split with them back in 2013 and would frequently endorse them. Mere proximity became a full-fledged connection when L. from Sun Worship joined Unru’s ranks shortly after their last full-length. It’s probably in no small part due to this that we see a significant stylistic change on Die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten, which furnishes Unru’s sound with many of the qualities that I had been missing on both the latest Sun Worship album and Unru’s earlier work.
While similarly prone to long-form songwriting, 2016’s Als Tier ist der Mensch Nichts was quite different from what Sun Worship were doing on their first two LPs. It was less confined by genre boundaries (MA still lists the band as “black metal/crust”) and felt much less controlled, driven by more of a restless, unhinged energy rather than the more measured, straightforward approach I’d come to appreciate. Glancing over it now, I can see the appeal, but at the time, the record did not click with me. I had glimpsed the power of repetition at the threshold where atmospheric verges on ambient and become addicted to the feeling of being borne away on a steady current of blasting and tremolos that continued more or less unabated for 12 to 15 minutes.
If that sounds like a nightmare to you, you might not be happy to hear that that’s exactly what drew me in to Die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten, although it wouldn’t be fair to say that the energy of the previous record is completely gone. The title track, in particular, while bookended by sections of steady, monolithic groove underpinned by braying synths, still largely consists of some of the same aggression and seemingly uncontrolled mania that was prominent on the predecessor. It barrels forth with almost frightening intensity, terrible to behold in its anger, yet irresistible in its pull.
This, however, only comes after the rather high barrier of entry that is opener “Kråkstad,” a lengthy, almost purely ambient piece that, frankly, tries even my patience. The stark contrast presented in these first two songs begins to dissolve with centerpiece and hands-down favorite “Der Hauch der Freiheit.” It starts off on a similar level as the title track, but given more than twice the runtime, it soon finds opportunity to explore a more melancholic mood and dial things back a little to let the synths color the sound much more prominently. It never falls all the way back down into the ambient territory of “Kråkstad,” but neither does it rely solely on impenetrable aggression. Thirteen minutes are used wisely to develop a width and depth of sound that I’ve found simply stunning on every spin of the record.
After these two different but consistently intense rides, “Hungersteine” sinks into utter despondency, maintaining an unwaveringly slow tempo for most of its duration that feels like hitting emotional bedrock. Yet what might seem like a catatonic stasis is anything but. There are parts in motion all the while, but the shifts are much more subtle now, gradually transforming and building up the song until it is ready for a final outburst in its last third. “Eintausend Stimmen” takes this stoic monotony and introduces blast beats back into the equation, resulting in a song that would not have been out of place on one of the Sun Worship records of yore. From minimal ingredients—there’s about three riffs over the course of 12 minutes, and even the synths are largely reduced to droning, single notes—the band crafts the kind of cathartic experience that I’ve been craving and which, mysteriously, isn’t nearly as boring as it sounds on paper.
This is testament to the skillful songwriting the band displays not just here, but throughout the album. I’ve heard some lament that the change in direction has taken some edge off their sound, but I would argue that this new approach actually makes them sound more confident and purposeful than before. They’ve mastered the tools at their disposal and know when to use what. Black and death metal vocals take turns with male and female clean singing, while the synths and an organ provide plenty of color to what could easily have been a very drab experience. For a good while now, I had been unsure if I still liked this particular style of long-form atmospheric black metal, but Unru has shown me that with just a few tweaks and updates, the sound can still be as engaging as ever.
4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten was released earlier this month through Babylon Doom Cult Records and is available here.