Ostara – Ultima Thule

With their third album Ostara has definitely left the neo-folk genre behind. On their last album Kingdom Gone the sound was already more pop and new wave orientated. This new cd Ultima Thule is basically a moody rock album. Most song are still based on catchy tunes, like ‘Nightmare Machines’ and ‘Diva de Sade’, but due to the electric guitar sound the music is harder than before. Despite this Ostara still plays atmospheric and melancholy music, ‘Immortally Wounded’ and ‘Black Spring’ are good examples of that.

This new record is an addictive rock album. The songs are, as always, well written and put together. Most likely some neo-folk fans will not like this new sound. But with Ultima Thule Ostara should be able to gain the attention of new listeners, like people who are interested in new wave and gothic rock.
MvGOstara is back with its third cd. The band around the South African-born and England-based Richard Leviathan has a new line-up and also more or less a new sound. The new bandmembers are Karia Hatakka on keyboards (from the Finnish crossover band Waltari, perhaps you remember their 1994 hit ‘So Fine’) and guitarist Stu Mason (from a US punkband called Kampers). It’s a bit of a question to which music scenes this album will appeal, it contains elements of various musical styles. Neo-folk purists are certainly at the wrong address here, an open mind is a necessity.

The new album is called “Ultima Thule”, the most northern part of the world in antique times, the land of the midnight sun and the polar night. It’s a symbol for the most extreme conditions of existence.

On “Kingdom Come” Ostara already showed an ability to create catchy popsongs. Folk elements were still there, but less dominant than in the past. The wave-pop music of the previous album is again present on “Ultima Thule”, but there are also clear rock elements added now.

Actually the cd is divided into two halves. The first five songs usually start rather slow, like indie pop songs, before turning into quite rocking pieces. They are followed by a few more tranquil, acoustic songs, which remind more of the ‘traditional Ostara’. There is even an a cappela track present: ‘Proud Black Templar’, which is quite nice actually, through the pleasant voice of Leviathan, his passionate rendition of the text and the gradually increasing number of voices. Unfortunately there are no lyrics present (but they do appear on the Ostara website). The world view expressed on this album is not particularly optimistic though, as usual.

When you listen to the cd for the first time unprepared the new Ostara sound may come a bit as a shock. The rocking guitars are not what you’re used to from Ostara. Personally I must say I got accustomed to them pretty quickly. Though usually not a big fan of guitar music, I hear the good melodies and good craftmanship in these songs. You are singing along to a tune like ‘Rose of the World’ in no time. And at times it can be pleasant to do a little headbanging to release your daily frustrations…I do know someone though who only listens to this album from track 6 onwards.

One of my favourite songs is ‘Nightmare Machines’, which begins as a sensitive modern pop ballad, before breaking loose into a dynamic rocking refrain. ‘Diva de Sade’ is also a strong rock track, with powerful drums and psychedelic keyboards. The title track is much more subtle material, rather romantic and reminding me a bit of ‘Overworld’ from the previous album. ‘Black Spring’ is a track which nicely builds up the tension with moody guitar and atmospheric keyboards, before releasing steam in the refrain: ‘Light up the sky / blow out the sun / This is Babylon falling / This is Bethlehem calling / This is your world going down / La la la la La la la la / Only ruins last forever.’

As a bonus the first edition of the album contains a ‘sadistic trance remix’ of the track ‘Diva de Sade’, which shows a completely new (and quite entertaining) dance-oriented side of Ostara. Now gimme a beat! After this album all your certainties are gone about where Richard Leviathan and co. could be taking you to in the future…

artist: Ostara
label: Eis & Licht
details: [Eis034]