Ural Umbo – Fog Tapes LP (Hinterzimmer, 2011)

Ural Umbo is a post-doom/drone metal duo comprised of the Swiss Reto Mäder (Sum of R) collaborating with Chicago-based percussionist Steven Hess. Early 2010 marked the release of a s/t debut & its sister cassette Latent Defects.

Their sound, packaging and track titles all celebrate the appeal of the dangerous, the weird and the paranormal. Lights that have stopped flickering, high-contrast b/w nude models in supine forms (strangled by long-exposure haziness), something behind the curtains… a fascination with the supernatural that, for all its darkness, is romantic at heart. Amidst distorted tape loops, clattering cymbals and morose drones, you’ll hear pale traces of a radiant beauty that belongs only to our imagination and limbic fears. As such, Ural Umbo’s music does not show brutal or evil qualities – until Fog Tapes.

Refining the techniques used on Latent Defects, the Fog Tapes LP is a palimpsest of analog tapes treated/distorted/peppered with percussion. The result, however, is a much harsher sound. Mystery and eeriness have made room for for an all-out assault on your primal instincts. Early Ural Umbo would lure you into uneasiness, but here they will forcefully drag you out of your comfort zone.

Side A drifts into the foreground with Ghost Cell’s marvelous percussion and  a light, innocuous sound. Speed of the Light in Vacuum, too, goes for the major chords, and reveals little of the danger to come. Background Value is where the record shows its true face: some real abyssal droning going on. Think of Indefinite Outline as an idyllic walk along the Bodensee, unaware of the assault weapon factories looming behind the pines.

With Self-Appointed, side B picks up with my favorite horror trope: drawn-out bells. Scaary. Non-Physical Contact continues the use of looped harsh tones and muffled/back-masked voices. The Mediums Feed wanders into frequencies normally occupied by Sunn O))).

Glory Humus closes the whole thing on a high note: near the end, thin traces of a choir pitch against fading drones into an open end, and leave you wondering whether more strangeness is lurking ahead. But from then on, it’s all in your mind.

Order the LP from Hinterzimmer Records. Background Value & Non-physical Contact are available as previews.

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