Ulvedharr - Total War - (9/10)
Published on August 7, 2017
The Art of Old-school Warfare
You almost had me fooled, guys. A band name that sounds best growled, war themes and a sound that is cold and brutal – I could have sworn Ulvedharr were a Swedish band. Their country of origin is Italy, though, and on their third LP, the quartet sound so vigorous they could definitely mobilize a battalion or two. In the death/thrash combination, they lean strongly towards the former, with a sound that is heavily reminiscent of Unleashed, with varied tinges of other Swedeath bands, as well as the more aggressive forms of thrash. However, Ulvedharr know better than copycatting their Viking brethren.
If you are aiming to go purely old-school, you better have the songwriting chops and effective attention to detail. Needless to say, Total War has that in heaps. Effective ideas are all over the place, and tend to be memorable as hell. From one riff played in several different variations (such as the opening of “Flagellum Dei”) to tasty technical breaks, the listener is never quite sure what will run him over next. The backbone of the music lies in Swedish-style tremolo riffs and an onslaught of busy drums, but it never feels tedious because the song constructions are just that good.
The thrash is not completely subdued, though – especially in the midpaced breaks, the guys salute the Teutons, most notably, Sodom and Destruction (“Krigaren” sports a Sifringer-was-here riff on top of a vocal line from “Thrash Till Death”). Such infectious headbangability is toned down only by the polished production. The melodies and solos do shine through, but if Total War simply sounded a bit uglier, its immense power would become power overwhelming. Here, the tremolos are quite clean and sometimes lack a bit of bite. Moreover, the drums are mixed in just a tad too quiet, which is a shame, as the drumming is relentless and crisp in execution.
The codename might be aggression and the topic might be war. Yet, there is no denying that the undeniable technical skill of the whole band comes together to forge songs that are, in fact, catchy as hell. A large help in this department comes from the powerful roaring of Ark, who also happens to have a reasonably brutal growl. Just try not to bark along to the bass-driven break of “Legion” (“Imperator! Cum mandator!”). Some of the catchy and melody-driven moments do resemble Amon Amarth, except with an immense set of nuclear testicles. No clear are to be found highlights here, as Total War just oozes solid work from beginning to end. If pressured, I would mention the massive post-chorus riff in the title track or the stop-and-go rampage of “Wolves”.
Sure, Ulvedharr are not pushing any boundaries of the genre. On the other hand, throwing in so many nods to classic bands and still sounding fresh and exciting is quite the feat. Just the sheer amount of riffs and headbangable parts makes for an intense listen, and the inclusion of many little ideas signals finesse kknown to few. Even after a dozen spins, Total War maintains its vigor and creativity. Aside from the polished sound and a couple of slightly repetitive moments, the struggle to find something distracting is real. Sorry, Sweden, but you just got heavily out-Vikinged.