Sunday, 15 August 2010

Wigrid - Hoffnungstod (2002) 92/100.

Many years ago, Germany became the hot-spot for depressive black metal through the likes of Anti, Nyktalgia and Wigrid. To this day I still think that some of those earliest bands were the best at capturing the melancholy spirit of the sub-genre, including Wigrid’s full-length debut, ‘Hoffnungstod’. With the increased popularity of the sub-genre, Wigrid have been lost in the hustle somewhat, though they’re still admired by a fair few who have stood by them in the hope for a new release to confirm the bands spot as one of the very best, despite a few issues which could be seen as potential problems or setbacks. Wigrid, another one man project formed by Ulfhednir, have stood the test of time despite the potential problems I touched upon earlier. Obviously, as with bands like Australia’s Abyssic Hate, there will be those who don’t like the use of a drum machine, but Ulfhednir has done what he sees necessary to release this album, via No Colours no less, whilst keeping creative control over the band.

For me, the drum machine was never an issue, nor was it with Abyssic Hate. It does give a slightly more artificial and synthetic sound to the atmospherics, but there is still a lot of genuine emotion to be found in both the guitars and vocals, in particular. The vocals are especially heart-wrenching. As you can probably tell going by the other reviews and distinctly within the sound of ‘Hoffnungstod’, as well as the sophomore follow-up, there is a definitive touch of Burzum magic sprinkled over both releases. Everything from the vocals, to the atmospherics and even the way much of the music is displayed is in a similar vain to Burzum and Varg’s masterstroke of minimalistic black metal of the early to mid 1990’s. Not much here can be classed as innovative, or ground breaking. What we have here is simple worship of bands like Burzum and perhaps other notable acts of the time like Forgotten Woods and Strid, though to a much lesser extent. The vocal work, in particular, reminds me of the early days when Varg’s vocals were notably strong and full of despairing emotion. I do wonder, since Varg’s vocals have altered, will Ulfhednir be tempted to do the same? A new release will tell us all we need to know. According to No Colours, there is a release planned, but no dates have been given as to when it will see daylight, if it ever does.

Unlike Burzum however, Wigrid do not use keyboards on ‘Hoffnungstod’. I had initially expected them and was rather disappointed that Ulfhednir decided not to go with a subtle symphonic side but, in reflection, it was probably a wise move. The production isn’t very classy. The music feels very compacted, with dense atmospherics sprouting up along the way. The production is intense however and very dark, but exhibit’s a number of wonderfully juxtaposed warm melodies, as shown perfectly on songs like ‘Ort der Einsamkeit’. That is always something I’ve felt about Wigrid’s debut, like I did when I heard some of the very first Ulver albums, with ‘Nattens Madrigal - Aatte Hymne til Ulven i Manden’ springing to mind specifically. Despite the raw sound of the production and the aggressive vocal style, there was warmth in some of the melodies on that particular Ulver album, as there is on certain songs on this album. These warm melodies are like the camp fires burning bright under the desolate night sky in the middle of dense forestry, as seen in the creepy and eerie artwork.

Everything from the themes, to the overall projection of the music is now known as rather typical of the sub-genre, but at that time I first heard it felt like nothing I’d heard before. At that point, I wasn’t heavily into Varg’s work, nor am I now really, so Wigrid felt almost completely new to me and very refreshing. Having examined the scene a lot more carefully since then, I do realise that this album is almost a carbon copy of some of the things being experimented on during the second wave, but I still respect the output Wigrid have laid on the listener here because it has such depth in emotion and the riffs, which are obviously central to the songs, are usually superb. Songs like the self-titled and ‘Der Weg in ein anderes Dasein’, both coming right at the end of the album, show a lot of neat riffs expressing various similar emotions such as depression, isolation and loneliness, something which is felt from the off through the intriguingly dark artwork. The guitars and the vocals are the main features of this album and since the bass is so buried, and the drums are obviously going to feel a little static at times due to their inability to show huge amounts of variation, these particular areas have to stay strong and they do. Still a classic.

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