It's been a year since the release of your last record „Converging Sins“. What's the current status of ULTHA? Are you working on new music, playing shows...?
We're always busy, but the summer hole also slowed down work in the Temple of Ultha. We're gearing up for our second tour this year, yet again with a band from New York we love: Yellow Eyes. We will tour through Europe and will also have a stop in Prague on Saturday, November 4rd. Besides that we are working on new material for album number three.
During summer, you performed at the Brutal Assault festival. When I found your name in the list and learned that you play black metal, I was intrigued at first, but when I found out, you're from Germany, I was doubtful. I apologize for such hypocrisy, but that was how I felt. The more pleasantly surprised I was, when I saw your performance – I wouldn't connect you with your country at all. Could you comment on these thoughts? When you started the band, were you trying to distinguish yourself from what is known as „German black metal“?
The question is, what is known as German black metal? See, I've been involved with this music from 93 on, and the first name that comes to mind from memory is Eminenz. I remember buying their debut on CD and how bored I was by that album. In that whole second wave the German bands were the ones I never cared about. I just recently worked my way into the Nagelfar discography, which I got from their old singer. And boy, they were a great band and it hurts to have missed out on them for so long. My go-to German black metal band was and will always be Katharsis. They rule(d). But still none of these bands have any real effect on my songwriting. The recent wave of newer German acts such as Sun Worship, Unru and Tongue are more up my alley. But we also do not sound like them, though we seem to share the idea of involving different kinds of influence and leaving the (by now) worn out path the Norwegians paved in the 90s. My ideas for Ultha come from all over the place. I wouldn't say it's particularly this or that, but whatever works to get the feeling across what I want to express and we all feel comfortable with in the end.
How did you enjoy playing at the Brutal Assault festival? From what I was able to feel from your set, I'd say, you were satisfied. I also think, you got the best place for your show – Oriental stage, which gave your show very interesting atmosphere.
This show was certainly one of the best and most impressive I've ever played. I think we all feel that way. The whole setting, unbelievable. And you're totally right, that stage was perfect for us on that evening. That day we met so many new people we didn't know before and had so much positive feedback. It would rule to play there again in the future.
What about ULTHA and live shows in general? Are you aiming to become more known? Did you have any bigger tour before?
So far we've done two tours. One with Berlin based Sun Worship in October 2016 and one with Brooklyn's Woe in April of this year. The latter certainly brought us to the biggest stages we have played up until this point including highlights such as Roadburn, Doom Over Leipzig, Dudefest and others. We're not aiming at anything besides trying to keep this band alive and writing good music. We love to play live and for me it's very cathartic to present something so personal and intimate as our songs in this way. That's why we have a strict code on how an Ultha show should look, sound and feel. That's our ultimate aim, to make this an emotional experience for us and the audience alike. If people dig what we do and this thing keeps on growing, it's cool for us. But we're already way better known than we've ever expected. We're happy with our situation and how it evolves. Stagnation is death.
When you were performing in Jaroměř, you gave the impression that although you're a young band, you know what you're doing. The lights and great sound, combined with quality music must have been really enjoyable experience for the audience. You received a lot of praise too. How do you feel on stage? Are you in your own world, being carried away by the music, not caring about the reactions of fans? Or are you paying attention to the audience?
We've all been involved with bands for more than 20 years and combined played a total of more than 500 shows. So there certainly is experience in how to perform and how to work in a band. When we started this band I had a lot of things in mind on how to present this live, as there are tons of things bands and light people do live I despise. I want our live show to be as honest as our music.
I guess everybody in Ultha feels differently on stage and takes away other kicks, but in general we all enjoy playing live – I guess that's important to make it authentic. Since the songs are incredibly personal to me and sort of my diary it touches me when I sing a part and I see someone touching his chest or raising his fists, singing along the words, because I see they mean something to them. I'm certainly in my own world but I keep an eye on the crowd, because I want to see if people get what we do and if they seem to relate. It's a feeling thing others might not understand.
Black metal as a genre in its conservative form brings a lot of cliches. You don't fit in that when it comes to the music, but the only thing, that feels strange is the reversed cross in your logo. Is your hatred towards Christianity so big, it has projected to the logo?
You're right, this subgenre is certainly one of the most extreme when it comes to code and etiquette. I wouldn't say that we don't care about it, but we're not necessarily consumed by it as a lot of other bands are. We don't see us as a straight up black metal band in the classic sense, but the logo and the upside down cross are a nod of respect to where this music comes from – and yes, religion sucks, but we don't feel hatred about that. We just see religion as something extremely problematic in its organized form and again a code and etiquette thing which forces people into a role instead of being free (thinking).
Could you imagine yourself standing on stage with warpaint or your face? Did you ever consider this typical black metal band addition?
Never. This just isn't me. I grew up fascinated by band pictures of Emperor, Marduk and Mayhem and I still buy raw underground tapes when there is a dude in a cloak with warpaint walking through a forest. This still rules but I would never do that myself. My sense of spirituality and motivation for this music comes from another place than the bands wearing corpsepaint (if they at all have an honest, heartfelt motivation besides thinking it is something they HAVE TO do).
You've released a lot of stuff since your first demo in 2015 – two LPs, EP, split, 7“… That's a lot of music in a very short time. How come, you're so active?
Again, this band is my diary and my catharsis. I have to write or I would lose my mind. My job and so many other boundaries of every day life suffocate me – writing music, rehearsing with the boys and going on the road is the last act of true rebellion and freedom in my life.
Your tracks are really long. The debut had mostly around 10 minutes long ones and the first song on your latest record is even 18 minutes long. By the way, the song „The Night Took Her Right Before My Eyes“ is really great in my opinion. What is behind your fondness for making such long compositions? Why did you decide to create this way?
On this record the songs just developed like this. We were interested in the hypnotic element bands such as Ash Borer, Fell Voices, Wolves In The Throne Room as well as ambient acts or movie scores use. I wanted to write stuff you can drown and float in. I always preferred this hypnosis in black metal and all of my favorite bands use this approach.
Sharing vocals between Ralph and Chris is something you do both on records and live shows. What decides who should do vocals?
I write the lyrics and once the song is finished I take the draft and play around with sentences and by listening to the song I get a clearer idea which voices in which combination benefits which part. Chris and I then sit down and discuss and adjust until we're both satisfied. The long experience in Planks really helps me to focus on this aspect of voices as an additional instrument.
The latest record has a female element in it – the vocalist Rachel Davies. What was behind the idea of contacting her and why did you felt like having a clean female voice?
Mainly because I always wanted to have Rachel sing on a song I wrote. Chris and I have been fans of Esben And The Witch forever and by chance I got in touch with her. We liked each other and started talking. The idea was born, she was into the song and my lyrical approach, so she did it. It's certainly among the five best things that ever happened to me on a musical level – a dream coming true.
Having a female voice on an emotional record makes perfect sense (to me), because only few men have voices as touching as a woman's voice. Rachel is somewhere at the top of the food chain when it comes to an emotional voice filled with intensity and beauty. She is an incredibly gentle and strong woman who made this song and this record something truly special and I can never thank her enough.
There are lots of black metal branches. You're mostly connected with Norwegian and American ones, that probably fit you best. But there are other interesting scenes, like the currently strong Icelandic or a few years ago very important French. Do you like – as a listener – exploring those I named? What do you think is „the magic“ behind black metal? Why is this style so fascinating for you?
Puh, the magic behind black metal? That's rough. I don't know. I can just say that this style impressed me massively at first as a 13 year-old death metal kid because I was into occult horror movies. Having guys looking like ghosts, running around in the woods or on graveyards, burning down churches and making this spooky music just clicked. The depth of emotion it carries resonated at a later point but in such a way that I could never get enough of it, up until this day. Don't get me wrong, it's the same as with dark wave music for me, the other big musical love I have: both styles share that 90% of the bands are atrocious and interchangeable copycats. Therefore the small 10% mean even more to me.
I have bands from almost every party of the world I dig. Maybe the most in the USBM sector, so you're right about putting us there. But I think it's difficult when people say “Ultha sounds like USBM”, because most USBM bands that influence my songwriting are not really well known and do not sound like classic USBM. I certainly am not influenced by bands such as Nachtmystium or Krieg. I like them, but they're not what I want to sound like. And it's that way with every country. Take the Iceland hype: I like MISTHYRMING a lot. They are punk as fuck, but most bands from their surrounding sound like Norwegian clones and I don't care for them. They are good bands but just nothing I see as something that I would aim for in my work. Then you have a weird band like Wormlust, which I can't wrap my head around but they spin-off a project like Ljáin. Almost no one knows that and these two tapes completely annihilate me and I sit listening in awe. See what I mean? So, I take influence for my writing from all over the globe and about 10 different styles of music, with other black metal bands almost at the bottom of the influence list. This then ends up in the blender with the other four's influences and feelings – the derived quintessence is Ultha, may that sound European, American, Scandinavian or German, who knows, it just has to feel like us.
All your graphic works, be that album covers or photos, are in black and white and I understand why, after all it might be the best fit for black metal. Everything looks well made, are you trying to be perfectionists in this field too?
We have a clear vision on how this music should look. It's mostly black and white because it matches the feeling of the music best, whereas our live show is all red. If there is an artist using colors but still being able to get the feeling right we might print stuff in color. But high craftsmanship is important to us for this band's look.
You recorded two covers. How come? And what's your opinion about covering songs in general?
I love doing this, but it has to be something challenging. I'm usually not into the idea of “metal band covers metal band”, but the Bathory cover was more like an interpretation. We've been asked to participate in a tribute compilation to Bathory and since this band, in our opinion, are the most important forefathers to what we do we couldn't say no. The other cover (Mighty Sphincter) was just something I always wanted to cover and making it our own in form of a doom song was just perfect. I assume we will do covers again. It's a bow and act of worship to bands who were able to express something you can relate to.
As ULTHA you clearly defined your style, what's next? I guess, there shouldn't be any drastic changes, but do you have any plans or ideas, how to sound fresh and non-repetitive? What can we expect from you in the future?
With Converging Sins we certainly defined our own style and branch. Our newer stuff will change and include things we haven't done before. But it won't be a total change of what we do. It will still be Ultha, just more advanced, I guess.
Ralph, before ULTHA you played in the well-known PLANKS. How would you describe that era?
Intense. This band was so very personal to me, it's hard to measure. But I think, as with most smaller bands after their break up, people start forgetting about it. That's perfectly fine as I did it primarily for myself.
Your name is also connected with another band called CURBEATERS, whose EP was released in spring. Could you tell us more about it?
Andy and I were involved with this project, as well as members of Black Shape Of Nexus. A short lived project idea was formed almost 15 years ago, before Planks, Ira, B.SON etc. The songs never received vocals, so last year, after Andy built his Goblin Sound studio in Cologne I laid down vocal tracks for the three songs and Golden Antenna records decided to print 300 copies. A few are still left, so if someone is into dark Doom/Sludge with a sinister tone you can still get this document of our evolution from Golden Antenna.
I'd like to thank you for your time and if there is anything more you want to say, feel free to do it!
Thanks for having me and for the attempt to get the word about Ultha out to parts of Europe we haven't been that well known yet. If anybody is interested in booking us please get in touch via luc(a)doomstarbookings.com. We would love to play more Czech shows.