Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Urna - Justa Funebria (2005) 70/100.

Italy’s lack of strength in depth in regards to the black metal scene has been well documented over the years but, thankfully, today we’re dealing with a band who manages not only to successfully conquer the black metal genre, but also manages to avoid the problems that come attached with integrating dark ambient and funeral doom techniques into their musical scope. Italy’s Urna are often regarded as one of the best blackened funeral doom bands around, particularly on the European scene. Regardless of what genre you believe they primarily play within, Urna equip themselves well across the board. When it comes to their repetitious black metal style, Urna are powerful and prevailing and when it comes to their abilities to be able to coolly fuse black metal together with keyboard driven dark ambient and funeral doom passages, Urna are dominant and dynamic. Although the bands discography does tend to get stronger the further you dig into it, their debut full-length, entitled ‘Justa Funebria’, is itself adept at providing a strong basis for the band to work up from, although it definitely could have used a few more songs akin to the explosive, dynamic opening track ‘...E Della Morte Il Trionfo’ -- although ‘In Obitu Obscuritas’ also conjures up much the same feeling.

This record, as their biography suggests, mixes together heavily repetitious black metal with ritualistic dark ambient and extreme funeral doom. Of all the extreme sub-genres of heavy metal, I have often found funeral doom the most difficult to get into and the one sub-genre which musicians fail more often than not to make even the slightest bit interesting. Thankfully, in regards to Urna’s ‘Justa Funebria’, the Italian stallions draw together intriguing ambiance with biting black metal distortion that culminates in the Esoteric-esque final song, entitled ‘Incipit Modesta Vita (Malus Vivendi)’. This 25 minute plus epic is a testament to the creative abilities of a band who’re often ridiculously overlooked. When it comes to blackened funeral doom, or whatever you wish to describe this as, listeners often flock in droves towards America, or even to Australia, a nation which is home to the mammoth Elysian Blaze.

Song writing is imperative to bands like this and their fellow blackened funeral doom bands because although their soundscapes are often very slow to build-up (as shown well in the final song which never explodes into life like I initially expected it to) and their stylistic approach is very repetitive, the constant flow of repetitious material is affective enough to justify its place on the album. I do feel it could have become quite the tedious factor if the overly long ambient tracks have become a regular occurrence amongst the album, but they’re not and that makes a huge difference to the accessibility of the piece, as well as just pushing the envelop enough, as opposed to too much. Within the quietened boarders of Italy exists a band who’re willing and adventurous enough to tackle not only one challenging sub-genre in funeral doom, but also dark ambient, a sub-genre which can often become tedious in its pretension. Although songs like ‘Incipit Modesta Vita (Malus Vivendi)’ could very well have been easily as impressive if it were condensed into a short time frame, the fact that Urna are willing to attempt such a brave and bold song is a testament to themselves.

Dark ambient is a very hollow, often unnerving sub-genre which can become largely inaccessible to the average listener, even those accustomed to the ways of black metal and other such extreme genres of music. The ambiance here isn’t simply ineffective, it swells and swells, sucking the listener into the dark vacuum with its mystical qualities -- a source the band tap into during the earlier stages of this full-length, too. I don’t consider the final song to be the epitome of the band, but it definitely shows the audience a wide ranging sound, as opposed to sticking closely to one particularly dull, uneventful spectrum that many funeral doom bands tap directly into. The bombastic approach of the first song, ‘...E Della Morte Il Trionfo’, is evidence enough to show even the newcomer to Urna’s style that they are capable of producing top quality black metal moments, despite the songs heavily influenced dark ambient style (this comes in the form of the eerie, astral sounding keyboards). The cleaner instrumentation which takes place during this opening song is simply sublime.

The change in dynamics from one moment to another is breathtaking as Urna spill their influences out and onto the page all at once with bombastic distortion, heavy percussion (which makes excellent use of double bass) and Esoteric styled clean guitars for enhanced ambiance (something which takes affect on the third song, too, another useful addition to the family). The ritualistic vibe is also a pleasant addition to the album, with the self-titled song displaying some melancholy chanting and the tolling of the bell, two things which create a precise picture in my mind of the environment this album is trying to portray in the mind of the listener. Urna’s debut full-length entry is a solid start to a career which gradually builds to impressive heights in the form of last years latest full-length addition, ‘Iter ad Lucem’. Throwing caution to the wind has paid off for Urna, but it is easy to see how things might have gone horribly wrong. Bombastic productive, biting repetition and wonderful ambiance force me to give this album a positive score.

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