Canadian duo Ulvesang convey tumult, emotional torment on rustic, woodsy album ‘The Hunt’

I’ve never hunted. I never will hunt. It’s not in my DNA, and the very concept of it is greatly upsetting to me. I’m also a hypocrite as a meat eater, because it’s not like death of another hasn’t made it possible for me to be nourished, and in many ways, what those creatures went through likely was worse. It’s a constant moral struggle, and often I decide to just not think about it. I am a coward.

Ulvesang’s second effort “The Hunt” focuses on that very thing, and while there is potential glory and power derived from tracking down prey, there also is sadness in knowing that another living being lost its life for the struggle. This 10-track record follows the process as people gather, plans are made, strategies devised, and then all are off into the wilderness to bring back bounty. The duo of Alex Boyd and Ana Dujakovic (also of Astral Path) create mostly wordless folk music that isn’t metallic by definition but certainly could pull in fans of artists such as Neurosis, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Panopticon who also employ more rustic, rootsy sounds in their music. Even without words, the Canadian duo convey the emotion and devastation revolving around the story and create an album that can settle in your head and take you along for the sojourn.

“Invocation” starts the record as sort of an introduction, with winds whipping, crows calling, a singular drum tapping, and woodsy chants leading to “The Trial,” where a rush of acoustics starts. Melodies flush and travel, as wordless calls haunt, while the autumnal tones infect, and the final melody line, which would make a great black metal riff, pushes away. “The Dance” lights up and rivets, as chants hum, acoustics rustle, and the tempo pushes harder. The playing keeps lighting up before guitars drips away for good. “The End” has a solemn start, as the guitars spread their wings, and chimes and chants mix. Later on, the tempo shifts leading to keys plinking, cosmic wooshes, and a jarring finish you won’t sense coming. “The Hunt” has water rushing, as the acoustic guitars ignite, and a hearty melody makes its way toward the center. The track takes on a mystical strangeness, and ghostly chants take up the reins from there to the song’s end.

“The Break” starts with guitars awakening, spooky tones getting into your head, and a misty ambiance coating your face with condensation. The music builds from there, flooding over and leaving everything underneath it, buried. “The Run” has fires crackling, as guitars join in, and chants fill the air. The acoustics pace this run, as they bring melody and spirit, and then the song gives way to the sounds of a dark, isolated wooded area, with chirps filling the senses. “The Gloom” is solemn and sad, with keys glimmering and providing dim light, and then we’re on a journey that feels like it takes place in a boat on an unlit tributary. The feeling lasts until the final draining seconds, pulling into the mouth of “The Truth.” This is the one song with actual lyrics and singing (Boyd handles the tale), and a deep, enrapturing tempo takes us into tapped drums, elegant playing, and a push through troubled waters. Closer “Močvara/мочвара” feels like the perfect bookend, as waters cascade, your head feels like it’s swimming in fog, and the whole thing comes to a chilling, uneasy finish, leaving you to tie up the loose emotional ends yourself.

Ulvesang’s music pushes past metal’s borders, almost as if we’re travelling beyond the Wall to meet wilder creatures living different lives on “The Hunt.” The record is many layered and filled with tumult, something it might take a few listens to fully absorb. This will be a great fall companion, especially on a cold, foggy day when the chill is at its apex. You’re not participating in the communal hunt yourself but living vicariously through the mission.

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