UrfaustThere has been a slow but steady upwards curve of hype surrounding this idiosyncratic duo over recent years. I remember excited whispering in the nether regions of the underground following the release of their ‘Giest ist Teufel’ debut back in 2004 but these whisperings have escalated to bellowings of feverish excitement over the last couple of years. Much of the talk centres around the two-piece’s unique, quasi-abstract and (dare I say it) ritualistic approach to minimalist black metal – slow, repetitive, doleful drum beats, spidery guitars describing melodic arcs and IX’s unique vocals that veer from sonorous clean tones to demented shrieks seemingly at whim. Reports that the band need to be seriously inebriated to perform to their best live just add to the aura.

Having spent a lot of time exploring Urfaust’s back catalogue, I have to admit I’m not sure I quite get it – two guys slowly playing Burzum riffs on loop whilst shrieking/warbling randomly does not genius make to these ears – and ‘Apparitions’ does little to dispel a nagging notion that someone, somewhere is being taken for a ride a little. At 45 minutes in length and boasting four tracks, Urfaust devotees will doubtless jump on this without hesitation however I would advise approaching with extreme caution. Opening piece ‘The End of Genetic Circles’ is simply 7 minutes of wafting, ambient synth – an unusual start, certainly, but given the band’s ‘eclectic’ tag, not unexpected. It’s a decent enough stab at the ambient electronic genre but hardly on a level with Emeralds, Mirroring and the like.

We then move into the title track ‘Apparitions’, in which percussion and clean/acoustic guitars enter the picture. IX demonstrates his undeniable vocal prowess with some impassioned clean refrains but again, it feels a little subdued, a little timid. A miasma of occult, ritualistic ambience permeates the piece for sure but it hardly reeks of the dungeonic, haunting vibe the band are clearly striving for.

‘The Healer’ is classic Urfaust I guess with IX finally switching on his distortion pedal and unleashing those distinctive shrieks. This is probably where most listeners to this EP will feel at their most comfortable and whilst it’s a typically repetitive, simplistic piece, there’s a little more of substance to dig into, the echoing weight of the drums in particular lending a sense of menace and purpose to proceedings.

We then come to the final – and probably most controversial – part of the EP, the 22-minute plus ‘The River’. Little more than a massively extended outro, it sees IX delivering a series of layered moans and howls whilst a menacing soundscape swirls beneath. Yes, it is eerily effective for a while but after five or six minutes (when practically nothing has changed and you realise that there are still over seventeen minutes to go), patience begins to erode. Of course, the intention here is to weave a hypnotic aura of all-encompassing unsettling occult mystery but unless you’re a) actually knelt before a candlelit altar in the process of performing a demonic summoning ritual or b) stoned out of your bonce, I would challenge you to make it to the end of this track. Pieces like this need a sense of inexorable, almost tectonic underlying movement, subtle escalations in dynamics – ‘The River’ does not have this.

And there you have it. That’s your lot with this. Not being a fan, perhaps it’s hard for me to throw myself wholeheartedly into the atmospheric approach of this release but for an act rated so highly, ‘Apparitions’ falls well short on the substance front, no matter how much ritualistic ambience the duo attempt to inject into it. The Urfaust faithful will likely revel in it come what may but newcomers are advised to check out ‘Der Freiwillige Bettler’ as a starting point – if that really strikes a chord then perhaps give this EP a spin.

Really though, ‘Apparitions’ represents something of an overlong non-event from a band whereby the hyperbole and the actual musical reality seem poles apart.

(5/10 Frank Allain)