Summoning the Walpurgis Fire – Interview w/ Ungfell

The underground metal scene has been witnessing a great comeback of black metal praising darkness from medieval time over the past few years, among which this Swiss black horde named Ungfell is definitely a band that shouldn’t be overlooked. The elements of medieval traditional music and tales about ghost and devils from Swiss folklores are reincarnated through Ungfell’s furious executions of top-tiered composition. This interview was originally written in early 2018, a few weeks before the release of their second full length Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz, in which we had the honor to discuss with the band’s main force Menetekel about their song-writings, concepts about each album, his passion in old Swiss folktales, together with Helvetic Underground Committee and Zurich’s underground scene.

Interviewed by Aymparch

Aymparch: Greetings, Menetekel, thanks again for accepting this interview. To start off, why don’t you give a brief introduction of Ungfell to those readers who are not familiar with you? What does the name “Ungfell” stand for?

Menetekel: Apart from the original meaning of  “ungfell” which means “misfortune” in antiquated Swiss German, Ungfell stands for tremolo guitar ear rape paired with furious blast beat attacks and hateful screams. We play a highly melodic style of BM with folk elements. Thematically, Ungfell is set in medieval times.  

AP: The band seems to be really a new-born child, since Ungfell was just formed in 2014. Yet you have managed to offer some of the most astonishing releases in the underground scene, especially last year’s Tôtbringære, which is one of my favorite albums for 2017. And again your second full length is going to be released via Eisenwald this March. So I just wonder what are some driven forces that make Ungfell such productive?

M: Hard to say… I just feel the need to get rid of the melodies in my head. Since I handle the composing alone I don’t have to fight over anything with other people. The songs just are what they are.

Thanks a lot for the kind words by the way.

AP: Alright, let’s talk about Tôtbringære little bit. I still remember how amazed I was when I first came across this gem back in last February, together with Schattenvlad’sV – two of the best Medieval BM released last year in my opinion. However, I think you came across this comment quite often in reviews of Tôtbringære – how this album reminds people of some French BM vanguards like PesteNoire and Autarcie, and how surprised when people realized you guys are from Switzerland instead of France. I think it’s because of those elements made famous by French bands like KPN:the raw production, the grim, medieval melodies of guitar riffs, and the uses of folk instruments with rural-like samples. So can you give our readers an idea of the writing process of this album?

M:See, the writing process is very unspectacular actually. I gather melodies, riffs etc. Then I sit in front of my computer and record everything. I start mostly with the guitars. I program the drums so my drummer (in that case Infermità) knows what to play. The lyrics are written with no particular system. Sometimes they come to me easily, sometimes it takes weeks to write lyrics to a track. The creative process is very strange in some cases. I remember writing the lyrics to “Wechselbalg” on a busride in about 20 minutes.

AP: In this album there are a huge amount of folk elements, so a quick question, what are some musicians or bands that outside BM or metal you draw inspirations from?

M:I actually don’t listen to a lot of folk music. I listen to classical music though and I’d like to think that there is a classical influence in my music. I also listen to a lot of ambient music nowadays (Brian Eno, Loscil, etc.). This really isn’t an influence you can hear in my sound but it inspires me.

AP: You already states that the lyric themes of Ungfell focus on folktales and witchcrafts, and these elements are quite prominent in your past releases. For instance: you posted it earlier on your facebook page that Tôtbringære is dedicated to Walpurgis Celebration; that album cover (I really like its design); your lyrics heavily deal with folktales about witch-hunts, wechselbalg, and the dark medieval classic Danse Macabre. So where did your fascination about folktales and dark medieval themes come from? Can you discuss the concept of Tôtbringære a little more?

Der Wechselbalg von Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1780

M: I don’t know where exactly it comes from but I always had an interest in history. I think the medieval theme is very rich in its different aspects and adds a lot of associations to the music. “Tôtbringære” didn’t really have a very clear concept aside from the always-returning motive of death in its many forms. The album was more like a collection of medieval ideas and worldviews. There was not a lot of research though, I just let my imagination go wild. Some tracks even have references to personal experiences, which I somehow adapted to tales. In this sense this is a very personal album to me.

AP: I guess this question may overlap with the previous one, that one can easily find a sense of “ruralness” in the production of your past releases. You seem to embrace the idea of absurdism and play with it as well, like that short video clip of “Recording session” you posted on facebook. Were you try to disconnect yourself from the urban society, reject it with a mocking tune, and return to a “rural identity” so to speak? And it is interesting to see many bands nowadays choose this stance of rural and absurd, like Autarcie, Lugubrum, Fluisteraars, and Pensées Nocturnes, just to name a few.

Menetekel

M: I wouldn’t overinterpret the clip on facebook. It is what it is. Which is exactly this: A stupid clip on facebook. Of course rural atmosphere and absurdity play a big part in the concept of Ungfell. But something that is absurd is very likely not to make sense. People who listen to music or especially BM always want to find “meaning” in everything. Truth be told, many “artists” don’t even know what exactly they do themselves. So if you want to interpret a clip on facebook by saying it is “disconnecting Ungfell from the urban society” then go for it. But keep in mind that it is kind of ironic to look for meaning in things that are meant to be meaningless. But then again, nothing really is meaningless… So maybe it’s just a failed attempt to do something meaningless. This is getting to complicated. Next question.

AP: Alright, let’s shift to your upcoming second full length Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz. I would say that the first single you released a couple of weeks ago titled De Türst und s Wüetisheer sounds more aggressive than yourold works, with a more typical melodic BM approach, without losing your previous trademarks. There are a few changes in the song titles as well, that MMP seems to have an emphasis on Germanic/Swiss folklores, like the figure Türst and some traditional folk songs (like Guggisberglied). Since I am not an expert in this field, could you give our readers some hints of the concept of this album?

“The Dance of Death” by Michael Wolgemut (1493).

M: All of the tracks are inspired by Swiss folklore. Some of them are pretty know nstories,like the tale of the “Wüetisheer” which is basically the Swiss equivalent of the “wild hunt”. The idea of an army of the undead is common throughout European folklore and can be found in many forms and variations. Other  tales like the one about the knight of Lasarraz are less known. This story is about a knight that marries an evilwoman, which then makes him banish his own parents, leading to their death in the cold.

The Knight of Lasarraz

 As a consequence, two toads are now clenching to the knight’s face and his whole family has been eradicated. These are just two examples of the stories contained in this album. Another aspect is that some lyrics are written in Swiss German.

AP: I also noticed some changes in this album’s lineup as well. The drum and percussion was performed by Vâlant instead of Infermità, why did you make this decision? Since you stated before that you are the only permanent member of Ungfell, how did working with different musicians help to shape Ungfell as a whole?

M: Infermità did a great job with the demo and the debut. I guess I just wanted to change up things.

The influence of a drummer on a track or an album is not to be underestimated. Even though I compose the drums for the most part before they are recorded by the respective drummer, the style of a drummer is essential to the overall atmosphere of a piece. Vâlant and Infermità are two extremely different musicians and they both had great additional ideas, which ended up being on the albums.

AP: One interestingthing I found is MMP was mastered by Greg Chandler from Esoteric, a band that I highly respect. Why did you let him master this album instead of doing it yourself like your previous releases? How did this collaboration happen? Are you satisfied with the result?

M: „Tôtbringære“ was mastered at Obsidian Eye Studios. For the new album it was Eisenwald who got me in touch with Greg. I am extremely satisfied with the result. He did a great job and I would like to work again with him if possible.

AP: Another thing caught my attention is the circle of Helvetic Underground Committee and those projects that affiliated with it. I’ve checked out a few of them, like Dakhma and Death. Void. Terror., the music you guys produce has this certain “Hermitic feel” (if I summarize correctly). Looks like the members often collaborate with each other as well, in the case of Ungfell, you have released a split with Dakhma, and their mastermind Kerberos contributed guest vocals on your new album. So I am wondering how did H.U.C. get started? Are there any common goals you try to achieve? What future releases can we expect from this circle in 2018?

M: There’s nothing spectacular about the origin of the H.U.C.. Kerberos and I decided to form some kind of alliance since we always supported each other. Some people joined. End of story. We don’t have something like a common goal other than to create crushing music. 2018 will be a banner year for the bands of the H.U.C. There will be new releases from Dakhma, Arkhaaik, Lykhaeon and maybe even some other ones. We’ll keep you posted.

AP: What is the role of Zurich in the music of H.U.C.? Since many of these circles nowadays claims that their music is tightly associated with the region/regional culture they come from, like South California’s Black Twilight Circle and Silesia’s Let the World Burn Coalition, I wonder if there are any similar relationships H.U.C. share with Zurich as well.

M: Zürich has no meaning for the H.U.C.. Most of us live here that’s it. Of course Zürich is more important for Ungfell than for example Dakhma since the importance depends on the lyrical content and the concept of a band.

AP: Alright, to finish our interview, and to follow one of our magazine’s traditions, tell our readers your favorite alcohol (I assume you are a drinker as well haha).

M: I really like the “AppenzellerHolzfass” beer!

AP: Thanks again for this interview, are there anything else you want to say to our Chinese readers?

M: Thanks for your support and good luck with finding the Appenzeller Holzfass beer in China…

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