posted on 9/2010 By:
Since Kovový Háj is the first encounter I've had with Umbrtka, I wanted to begin with a bit of investigation through the band's back catalog. Investigate I did, and to my very pleasant surprise, I discovered perhaps one of the most ambitious black...excuse me...grey metal bands out there. Kovový Háj, which was released earlier this year, is the band's fifteenth full-length since 2000. That's right, fifteenth...and let me be the first to tell you, these are by no means garbage recordings. In 2003, these black metal-loving Czechs recorded four albums, including one entitled Melša - Frank Zappa Meets Darkthrone. If that isn't enough to intrigue you, know this: Umbrtka happened to squeeze out yet another full-length before my lazy ass got around to writing this review. That's two for this year, so far. Read on.
Perhaps Umbrtka's self-appointed genre, "grey metal", is slightly too limiting. While Kovový Háj's many acoustic moments contain a good amount of melancholy, majestic vocal passages and an overall softer vibe interweave a fair amount of warmth throughout the album's atmosphere. Similar to many of the better-known shoegaze releases this year, Kovový Háj immediately sends the listener into a state of somber reflection. However, this release is, instrumentally speaking, far from shoegaze. The solemn acoustic and electric guitar passages are welcoming, yet at times are just unstable enough to keep one feeling insecure about how comforting the album really is. The reason this uncertainty is so captivating is this: Umbrtka will take you on a ride that is filled with various twists and turns; one that takes you through the dark woods yet passes through a broken down, industrialized city on the way. The ride isn't rough, and the turns won't jerk you around in your seat. In fact, the ride itself isn't what is so thrilling about Kovový Háj, but rather the peculiar scenery one will slowly glide by throughout the album's fantastic journey.
The vocal passages, which are exclusively in Czech, add a mysterious and gracious flair to the album without the shrieks or wails that usually accompany so many varying emotions. There are are no tremolo bursts that accompany the occasional double bass rhythms to be found here. No...Kovový Háj is quite soft through and through, but its uniqueness comes with the fact that it's far from peaceful...far from serene...far from relaxing. All the while one can listen to the album without feeling the slightest bit disturbed by its occasional eeriness.
My first experience with Umbrtka has certainly been a pleasant one. The instincts of any experienced metal listener lead them to the sole conclusion that the band has quite a vast appreciation and knowledge of the music that came before them, yet has absolutely no reservations or limitations as far as their personal songwriting goes. Evidence of this is contained even in their earliest albums, where sheet metal plates and dustbins were used in place of a normal drum kit. Members of Umbrtka have no problem with posting negative reviews in their blogs either, and aren't embarrassed to list abandoned places full of concrete, rusty iron constructions with no apparent purpose -- standing there like altars to long forgotten gods, or like some bizarre, inanimate gods themselves -- strange homeless people, or railway poetry as their primary musical influences. They humbly describe their music as sounding like "Rummaging through a pile of metal junk while whistling a [childlike] tune and contemplating mortality." Although I'll disagree that Umbrtka's sound is far too vast to be compared to metal junk, their ability to make musical use of whatever surroundings they are given is certainly reminiscent of childhood, and it's certainly enough to lure one into deep reverie while contemplating mortality.
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