Interview and Album Premiere: Ultha Talk Debut, US/Euro BM, “True” Copycats, & Anti-NSBM

German five-piece black metal enthusiasts Ultha will see the re-release and first major US distribution/pressing on CD of their debut, Pain Cleanses Every Doubt, on April 29th via Translation Loss Records. While European black metal reaching US markets for the first time isn’t quite a rarity, Ultha’s approach will raise some eyebrows among even corpsepainted fanatics.

Drawing parallel to more contemporary US acts like Wolves In The Throne Room and Xasthur, yet professing a passion for black metal since ’92/’93, Ultha craft a unique and powerful blend of the subgenre. Clocking in at over 40 minutes (in only four tracks), Pain Cleanses Every Doubt is currently available for pre-order. It doesn’t disappoint — and if you don’t trust us (shame), stream the full album below.

We caught up with Ultha to talk re-release, US vs. European styles, and what the band sees as the current state, and future for, black metal. 

Can you tell us about the name and the decision to use it? I read it has something to do with H.P. Lovecraft.

That’s correct. Lovecraft is an author we all love. Ulthar (with an R) is a town in one of his stories. Finding a name is always dreadful. Ultha just sounded good and laid foundation for a great symmetrical logo. The bleak mood, the sense of fear and the underlying gloom in all of his stories kind of sets the tone of how we want our music to sound.

Pain Cleanses Every Doubt, the band’s first full-length, is seeing release on Translation Loss in the US. Was it previously distributed in the US? And what’s the title mean?

The title derived from the lyrics, which develop apart from the music. Once the lyrics are finished we look for a common denominator to put a frame around everything. In this case it’s the fact that sometimes you are only able to see straight when your eyes are filled with tears and the realization that mostly it’s too late then.

The record was released on vinyl by German label Vendetta Records from Berlin. Stefan, the man behind the label, has a pretty good distribution overseas, but as with most small DIY bands from Europe it flew under the radar. Also it was only on vinyl. Thanks to Translation Loss it’s now starting to get a lot of positive feedback. We’re grateful that Drew gave us that opportunity.

Ultha sites influences from this side of the pond. For many US fans this may seem unusual, a European black metal band playing in a style that resembles the bands here. Who are the groups you draw inspiration from, and was is it that got you interested in these bands as opposed to the more …. traditional black metal groups?

There are as many ‘traditional’ bands over here as there are in the States. Only a handful of bands dare to leave the narrow(minded) frame which dictates what is so-called “true” and what earns a negative connotation as “hip”. 95% of these traditionalist bands are the copycats of the copycats of the early 90ies Norwegian scene. It’s so watered down, shallow and uninspired. A lot of US bands started to derive the essence of what was and is black metal to them, but so did a few European bands. These acts avoid phoney stereotypes and dare to focus on songwriting, thinking outside the box and making the recipe their own. By chance we find ourselves closest to bands such US acts as Ash Borer, Weakling/Dispirit, Yellow Eyes, Wolves In The Throne Room and Xasthur. They put mood, melody and melancholy before the whole acted out evilness which was cool in the 90ies and isn’t so much in 2016.

Listening to the songs, many of which are well above the 10-minute mark, I get an atmosphere of both tension and grief, but also a strong expression of catharsis. What sort of atmosphere does Ultha look to express?

Gloom is always a good keyword. It’s a sort of trance in the state between emptiness and being alive, about anguish and the haunt for that one chance to do things right – just to fail again. It’s this overall feeling that the world is depressing…and then you die. It’s not supposed to be “depressive black metal” but certainly melancholic and despondent. When you start to drown in frustration you look for a way out. This leaves you with phases where you’re crawling on the floor until you get up and break down doors. You have to relief yourself and keep moving, even in the face of the fact that in the end you exist for nothing.

Is there a divide between the US and European style in the bands around you? Do people around you regularly talk about that?  

Yes and no, as stated before. But we’re part of a new wave of bands (of whom many are our friends) who to play this kind of music and dare to inject a little originality into dried out veins. Listen to Sun Worship, Unru, Fyrnask, Paramnesia and such and you will hear what we mean.

Still people rather talk about how we or the others look, how we think and chose whom to play with or whom to work with, based upon our socialization in a more political punk and hardcore surrounding. We don’t talk about this but it seems we get talked about. The purists debate on whether these bands are hipster or true or pure or whatnot. But when Sun Worship played Roadburn last year all people who looked at them and said “Look at these hipsters” ended up windmilling halfway into the first song.

The Ultha Bandcamp page has the message “- FUCK NSBM -”. What motivated that decision?

The “Fuck NSBM” thing is a very important attitude we as people behind the band have. We love black metal since we started listening to it back in 92/93, but the politics and ethics in this scene have often been sketchy at best. Ultha is not a political band by any means, but all participants are a political people – and so is everybody in this world, even though they often legitimize enjoying music by right wing idiots by stating they’re unpolitical. That’s bullshit.

Ultha recently announced the completion of the lineup with a new guitarist. How did that happen?

Our brother and founding member J had to leave the band due to time and health problems. It hit us really hard and unexpected, but these things happen when you’re older than 35 and have a full-time job and family, like all of us in the band do. But we found a replacement now and can commence all shows we planned for the rest of the year.

Speaking of the lineup, a metal fan researching the bands may be surprised to see that Ultha has a full-time members listed as “electronics.” What motivated the decision to have this somewhat atypical lineup?

Two words: Emperor & Neurosis! Both these bands pushed boundaries in their respective genre by adding nuances no one else dared. They had more insight in creating an overall dark atmosphere than all their peers. We also share the love for dark wave music or bands such as The Haxan Cloak or Raime. If you want to create dark, moody music which prioritizes atmosphere, keyboards and electronics further your opportunities. You will hear more of this approach on our new album, as A hasn’t played a whole lot on Pain Cleanses Every Doubt.

What’s next for the band?

We just finished recording new songs for a split with French band Paramnesia and a cover song for a CVLTNation compilation. In May we will start recording album No.2. The songs are 90% done and we aim for a release in fall of this year, hopefully in time for our first European tour in October with our brothers in Sun Worship. After that, we’ll see. There are talks of a US tour in 2017, but nothing’s set in stone yet.

What do you see for black metal in the future, and how does Ultha play a part in that?

To be honest, we have no clue. Hopefully this ridiculous hype around this music, that’s been going on for a while now, blows over soon. Most people trying to “be” black metal can head for a new trend to shape their bands after then. Ultha will certainly progress further and we will hopefully be here playing this music we all grew so fond over the last 25 years.