Urfaust Indulge in Gin and Ritualistic Black Metal
Urfaust have always been a band that truly defies classification. Formed back in 2003, this Dutch two-piece has a slew of releases under its belt, including splits with acts as diverse as King Dude and Joyless. If you were forced to try to describe Urfaust's sound, you could use words like “psychedelic,” “madness” or “esoteric,” but you’d be doing them a disservice. They have truly become their own being, twisted and like no other.
I remember first hearing their unusual (i.e., fucking weird) take on black metal when I was driving around San Francisco late one night with Jef Whitehead. He insisted that I listen to them — truly listen and try to take in what they were achieving. Thirteen years later, Urfaust continue to push boundaries, but the maturity of what they’re doing now is strikingly noticeable. Their newest incantation, titled Empty Space Meditation, is more of a journey than a destination — the sort of record that reveals new subtleties with every listen.
When questioned whether or not this kind of growth is challenging or if it comes naturally, drummer VRDRBR replies, “We never were bothered about what other people think of our music, since we create this for ourselves. [Combining] this with the fact that we have never had interest to record the same kind of album twice — and the fact that we are always growing and discovering new influences — makes it quite easy to 'push boundaries,' so to say. We grow older, we make mistakes, we learn — it is all natural.”
Later, I ask if this record could be seen as a sort of sonic photograph of where the two gentlemen are at this stage in their creative lives. “Yes, you can see it that way!” VRDRBR exclaims. “Over these years we have been around, we have experimented and always put in new elements in Urfaust, but always 'stayed true' to our sound. This new record can be seen as a very nice cocktail of all the previous recordings, with some new touches. But for some reason, I think this album might be a bit 'back to the roots,' although it does not sound like [2004's] Geist ist Teufel in any way. Maybe it is all in my head, because of the feeling or the way we recorded it, but personally to me, this album is very Urfaust. So, yeah, a photograph of where we stand now — it is what it is. We are the same guys, just grown a bit more older and maybe even wiser?”
Urfaust have always had a strong visual aesthetic, both in their ritualistic live performances and their records / merchandise, which stands out from bands who regurgitate the old black metal clichés or utilize the hot new trend of putting witch hats on like a Satanic Stevie Nicks. When the subject of aesthetics is brought up, VRDRBR posits, “Artwork should always be in service of the recordings, and maybe also vice versa. How often were you disappointed by buying an album with a great cover, [then] finding out that it totally sucks once you played it? Happened to me a lot. The same goes for discarding records or not buying them because of hideous artwork, [then] finding out later the band is actually great. We have several styles with Urfaust when it comes to artwork: Sometimes a simple woodcut will do; sometimes it is fitting to have a more mesmerizing artwork, like the latest cover ThornyThoughts did for Empty Space Meditation. Sometimes we incorporate some dark humor; that is the fuel that keeps us going. Artwork and music need to be in service of each other and complement each other. Of course, the music should do the talking and is the most important, but great artwork can fuel the fire a little bit extra or set the right mood for the listener, or show what the listener will be getting into!”
Empty Space Meditation has an incredibly organic sound, somehow spanning the gap between an earthy and spacey tone, while not having the feeling of being overly produced. Recorded in a bunker in between 2015 and '16, it sounds as though not using a traditional studio really added to the atmosphere. “It is an old air-raid bunker deep down in the ground next to a cemetery,” the drummer explains, “so the vibes are good, for sure. The equipment is pretty shabby, but we love broken and shitty-sounding amps, so it is perfect for us. Since you are under the ground, there are no windows; you lose track of time. That and a very moist environment — with loads of bugs and a couple of good drinks — create the perfect state of mind to record music. The acoustics of the bunker are perfect for the sound we wanted to have.”
A few years back, Urfaust came to the United States to do a few shows on the East Coast. I managed to catch them in Philadelphia, and despite the duo being exhausted and the crowd being dogshit, they somehow put on the best show I saw that year. At least a few times a year, they perform some select shows in Europe.
How important is the live performance to Urfaust? “Playing live is a love / hate thing," VRDRBR admits. "Of course, it is great to perform our music live, but it should never become a full-time thing. People dream of going on world tours and [doing] gigs every weekend, but for the both of us, that is complete horror! We have always played a few times a year, and I do not see that [changing] in the future.”
As for returning to this side of the pond for more shows, “I would love to come back to the U.S. one day, but there are always these fucking visa problems, especially these days. Things have become more strict, and it is a big risk to take and money to invest; what happens if you get denied, like our labelmates the Ruins of Beverast some months ago? We get tons of offers from U.S. promoters, but once we talk about the fact [that] we need work visas, they all say the same: 'Just come as tourist.' But what happens if you get caught? Not only are we shipped back on the first flight, but we are also banned from entering the U.S. again for a period of time.”
One of the drummer’s passions besides music is gin, so I figured I’d ask for some recommendations since I mostly stick with brown liquor: “The list of gins I could supply you with are endless," he responds. "My favorite gin would really be the standard of all gin: Gordon's! It is really a '0815' gin, but it always goes down. It is cheap, does the job, and you can do anything with it. I have been drinking and collecting gin for years, so the list would be longer than the interview. But what I found really important [is] get a good tonic — not too bitter, not too sweet. Make sure the tonic really lets the gin flavors stand out. Never get cheap tonic; never get these perfumated, stupid, overpriced tonic shit. A simple bottle of Schweppes will do! Of course, I can recommend you Monkey 47, but it has a very sweet taste; maybe too sweet for most. One of my favorites is Plymouth Dry Gin, especially the navy strength: a gin that has the real gin taste, without any 'flavors' — just perfect! Add a slice of lemon, some big ice cubes and Schweppes tonic water, and you are in for a buzz!”
Our lengthy conversation draws to an end, but I want to know one final thing: Is this the last stop in the journey or is there no true destination in sight? “The possibilities are endless," the drummer suggests. "I think that with this album, Urfaust has come 'full circle' for some reason. The recordings of Empty Space Meditation did something to our creativity. It did ignite the flames again, like in the Geist ist Teufel days, where no one knew us and we could do whatever we wanted. This is how we feel now again; we can do whatever the fuck we want, however we want and whenever we want.”
Strong words for an even stronger record. Empty Space Meditation will be released in October via Van Records, and should easily fit into my top records for this year. Absolutely incredible work from a prolific and bizarre entity.